Our Country’s Good review

11:36 23 February 2014

Divyesh Thakerar as Sideway and Jack Swanson as Lieutenant Clark in Our Country

Divyesh Thakerar as Sideway and Jack Swanson as Lieutenant Clark in Our Country's Good at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

John Davies

Our Country’s Good played at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. Joseph Kerr reviews the Barn’s latest production.

Jack Swanson as Lieutenant Clark and Lou Robinson as Dabby Bryant in Our Country's Good at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Jack Swanson as Lieutenant Clark and Lou Robinson as Dabby Bryant in Our Country's Good at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Our Country’s Good is a play with many strands.

Set against the backdrop of the first Australian penal colony in the 1780s, its main storyline shows what happens when a group of convicts, both male and female, rehearse and eventually perform a classic comedy, The Recruiting Officer, under the direction of a Royal Marine lieutenant.

But there’s a host of sub-plots, all illuminating the extraordinary pressures on both the prisoners and their captors in that cruel and artificial society which Britain had just created.

Twenty-four years after its first successes in London and New York, the Barn’s production left me in no doubt that the play still works.

Paul Brown as Wisehammer and Gemma Anderson as Mary Brenham in Our Country's Good at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]Paul Brown as Wisehammer and Gemma Anderson as Mary Brenham in Our Country's Good at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City [Picture: John Davies]

Like so many modern plays, it has been written with a view to most of the actors playing more than one part; in this case, the original doubling pattern is largely adhered to, with 22 roles shared between only 10 actors.

All but one of them – including the women – play both an officer and a convict.

By and large it works, but personally I would have preferred some of the more important parts to have been played by just one actor.

Which is not to complain about the standard of acting, which I thought in general very high.

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

In particular, there were two absolutely superlative performances: Julia Ryan, as the sullen and apparently de-humanised Liz Morden, movingly showed her becoming less alienated under the influence of the theatrical experience; and Paul Brown, with the most difficult double of all, Governor Captain Philip RN and convict Luke Wisehammer, was utterly convincing as both.

I particularly liked the subtlety and humanity of Wisehammer’s scene with Mary Brenham, very ably played by Barn newcomer Gemma Anderson.

There were other very good performances. Jack Swanson, the only actor with just one role, showed us the diffidence and quiet courage of Lieutenant Clark.

I much enjoyed the absurdly theatrical style of would-be actor Sideway, played to great comic effect by Divyesh Thakerar; and Matt Greenbank was excellent as both the reluctant hangman Freeman and the casually brutal Major Ross.

It was skilfully directed by Louise Wallace, and I must make special mention of the background music, beautifully sung and played folk songs, and the superbly atmospheric lighting.

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