Our Country's Good @ Tobacco Factory ★★★★

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By Amy Iles, Third Year Theatre and Performance Studies

Brilliant and evocative, Timberland Wertenbaker's epic play Our Country's Good comes to the Tobacco Factory theatre. Amy Iles reviews this poignant and powerful production.

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Mark Dawson Photography

During my A-Level years, studying Timberland Wertenbaker’s epic play Our Country’s Good, was a labour of love for me. Now, nearing the end of my degree, the redemptive power of theatre for social change seems all the more poignant, and is at the heart of Anna Girvan’s powerful production. Having studied the text cover-to-cover, I was delighted to still find myself surprised by the many clever elements of this brilliant and evocative performance, making me fall in love with the play all over again.

The plot is based loosely on true events of the first convict colony transported to Australia putting on a play in a time of hopelessness, hierarchy and homesickness - affecting both the convicts and officers alike. Theatricality is thus inherent in the text, but also brought to the forefront in this production, chiefly in the Brechtian style Girvan adopts. The audience are situated so that they are constantly aware they are watching a piece of drama, and their suspension of disbelief is made clear.

A perfect balance between light-heartedness and darkness.

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Mark Dawson Photography

Direction and design came together wonderfully to emphasise the drama, whilst also clearly and cleverly creating the world of the play. The in-the-round space of the Tobacco Factory theatre facilitated this perfectly, allowing the actors, who remained onstage throughout, to be onlookers of the action alongside the audience when they were not performing in character.

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Mark Dawson Photography

The simple use of modern props suggest - rather than realistically emulate - the 1788 setting, which was highly effective, whilst Keegan Curran’s sound design subtly immersed the audience into the Australian setting. This was complimented by the very clever costume design, which made sure that there was no confusion in the multi-rolling of the actors, by innovatively emphasisising the importance of hierarchy in the officers of the convict colony through different styles of red shirts. Chris Swain’s lighting design was inspired, not only creating atmosphere and a sense of place, but also being critical to the plot in certain moments, particularly in demonstrating the growing madness of Harry Brewer, one of the Midshipmen, and the apprehension of everyone on the island.

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Mark Dawson Photography

Celebrates the important role theatre plays in society

The performance’s strongest moments were those where the cast were all on stage simultaneously - not that the less populated scenes were weak in comparison. Indeed, the ebb and flow of the action and tension during the play was well directed throughout, striking a perfect balance between light-heartedness and darkness. But the pivotal moments when the actors all came together highlighted the shifting relationships between the convicts, as they rehearsed and performed their play and thus the vital message that theatre can provide unison and salvation to any person in society.

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Mark Dawson Photography

This was a true ensemble piece, with strong performances from all the cast, and precisely what theatre of today needs. Despite some disjointedness in the pace of the first Act, this is a play which celebrates the important role theatre plays in society, and every aspect of this production serves to remind the audience that theatre should be for everyone - something which made me proud to study an area often unfairly judged.

★★★★

(Featured Image Credits: Tobacco Factory Theatre / Joe Roberts)


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