Sunday, 7 April 2013

Our Country's Good at the Lyric Belfast Review

This year is the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Our Country's Good, the contemporary classic by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Adapted from the novel The Playmaker, which is based on historical fact, the drama tells the story of how convicts in the penal colony of Australia were allowed to produce their first play, The Recruiting Officer.

Our Country's Good makes a case for the revolutionary and redemptive power of theatre. The governor suggests that the convicts put on a play which, he believes will be beneficial to both them and their jailers.  The officers keep the convicts in their place with humiliation and punishment and are not convinced that the production will be useful. The prisoners are understandably suspicious. Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark agrees to direct the play and his journey towards opening night is difficult one, with the company losing cast members throughout rehearsals to disagreements, punishments and artistic differences. The reality of penal life, highlighting lashings and hangings creates a harsh canvas for Wertenbaker to build an often witty tale of discovery and understanding.

The Lyric Drama Studio under Philip Crawford's direction have yet again produced another excellent, thought provoking show.  The strength of this production is the raw talent on the stage.  The actors are well cast and their potential is obvious, with Rosie Barry in particular shining in her role as Dabby Bryant.  Carla Bryson portrayed Duckling with great ability and her strength as an actress is highlighted as she despairs over Harry's death.  I particularly enjoyed the convicts' treatment of Ketch Freeman, the hangman, as they spat on him everytime he spoke. Luke Bannon played this role with just the right amount of nervousness, the character's hesitant disposition underlying his determination and humanity.      

If the value of theatre is to confront, teach and captivate, then Our Country's Good succeeds. This is a great production with many stars of the future getting their first credit on stage.

Click here to watch Philip Crawford discuss the play.


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