Australian convicts’ play takes to the Welwyn Garden City stage

Our Country's Good plays at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures] Our Country's Good plays at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures]

Thursday, February 6, 2014
8:38 PM

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s classic play Our Country’s Good opens at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City this week.

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Sydney Cove 1789. The first shipment of convicts and guards has arrived.

Sadistic officers, thieves, murderers and a humane and reforming Captain – this is what made Australia.

Adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, the barren landscape of Australia provides the setting for Timberlake Wertenbaker’s classic play Our Country’s Good, which can be seen on stage at the Barn Theatre from Friday, February 7 until Saturday, February 15.

Our Country’s Good has become perhaps the strongest affirmation yet of the redemptive power of theatre.

Our Country's Good plays at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden CityOur Country's Good plays at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City

Award-winning director Louise Wallace is in no doubt about the message of the piece.

She said: “I’ve always wanted to direct this play, it celebrates drama, why we teach it, how we educate our children.

“With arts funding increasingly under pressure, now feels like a good time to stage it.”

Based on a true story and full of contemporary relevance, it is a compelling drama.

Witness the inspirational transformation of a ragtag bunch of convicts during the rehearsals for the first play, The Recruitment Officer, performed in the fledgling colony of Sydney Cove.

The group are led by an earnest young naval officer who struggles with the prejudice of his peers, the inhospitable climate and the ever-present threat of the hanging of at least one of his actors.

The results are uplifting and affirming for anyone who has ever enjoyed the thrill of performance.

With only two copies of the text and a cast of convicts, conditions are not ideal and the officer complains that “half my cast are in chains”.

As the convicts rehearse and their gaolers wrestle with its effect upon the life of the colony, the audience is reminded that from these origins a nation is built.

By performing their roles, the mostly illiterate convicts are introduced to new ways of seeing the world, new possibilities and the officers to new ways of thinking about their prisoners.

They begin to understand each other, on stage and off.

The idea of redemption through education takes root.

As rehearsals progress, there is growing humanity, both amongst officers and convicts.

With the 10-strong ensemble on stage all the time, most taking multiple roles, audiences are in for a treat.

Deeply moving and lyrical, Our Country’s Good not only talks about the magic of theatre, but with this moving and beautifully directed production it triumphantly proves it.

Tickets cost £11.

* See next week’s Welwyn Hatfield Times, out Wednesday, for a review of the play.

* For more entertainment news, visit our What’s On section.

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