Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Max Stafford-Clark
Reviewer: Jimmy Mac
The Public Reviews Rating:
By hook or by crook, Out of Joints co-production with the Octagon Theatre Bolton marks a 24 year anniversary for Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good. Originally performed in 1988, the text to varying degrees is a play within a play within a play. Based on another production – The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally.
Lieutenant Ralph Clarke’s brave decision to stage a production of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer within the confines of a New South Wales penal colony, is greeted with a mixed reception amongst officers and convicts. Lieutenant Governor Robert Ross is strictly opposed, pickpocket convict Robert Sideway has already learned all the lines, and for mild mannered Reverend Richard Johnson – it’s more a question of ethnic morality than anything else.
The play faces a series of terrifying obstacles and doesn’t bode well for the loveable convicts; arguments ensue between cast members, roles face stiff competition from the hangman’s noose, and an overbearing hierarchy threatens to slam the stage door shut for good. Max Stafford-Clark’s clever direction of an accomplished cast pays out tenfold in a production that is mesmerising from curtain up. Wertenbaker’s script is poignant, devilishly dark and at times hilarious. Proving Captain Arthur Philips point perfectly, “there is more to life than crime and punishment.”
Matthew Needham excels as loveable theatrical bandit Robert Sideway. Equally impressive in his portrayal of an assured Advocate in David Collins – clear evidence here that the Spotlight Award has found its rightful owner. Ciarán Owens is brilliant as the dastardly Major Ross, licking his lips with every crack of the whip. His characterisation of gentle hangman Ketch Freeman is a wonderful contrast, capturing the hearts of an enthralled North West audience.
Ian Redford battles effortlessly with the demons of Harry Brewer, and has the audience in hysterics as he slips almost pantomime dame-esque into the heels of Meg Long. Kathryn O’Reily arcs the transition of the outspoken Liz Morden perfectly – softening beautifully as the play progresses.
The Octagons stage serves as the perfect home for Tim Shotell’s multi-purpose 18th century setting. The manoeuvrable wooden floor is much like its powerful ensemble; multi rolling brilliantly as an office, living quarters and the distant shores of Australia. Stafford-Clark’s scene changes are sharp and precise, providing us (in stark contrast to the convicts), with swift transportation to all parts of the penal colony.
Despite it being a mere two runs into a national tour – Our Country’s Good is a tremendous achievement, polished to perfection by Out of Joint and the Octagon Theatre Bolton. As the convicts find excitement playing within their play, we as an audience are truly transfixed by both. We forget about our own off stage trials and tribulations; and are engrossed in a production innocent of imperfection and guilty of theatrical genius.
Photo: Robert Workman
Runs until Sat 22 September at the Octagon Theatre Bolton
Our Country's Good - Octagon Theatre, Bolton ,