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Our Country’s Good at the National Theatre

Published 27 August 2015

What’s it all about?

In the 18th century, hundreds of convicts were shipped to Australia to prevent overcrowding in English prisons and it is in this lonely, brutal landscape that Timberlake Wertenbaker’s outstanding drama finds its story of hope and redemption through art playing out.

Against this setting of red sands and vast orange-tinged skies, Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark attempts to bring decorum by convincing his superiors to let him stage a production of The Recruiting Officer with the convicts as the players. And, as theatre has a habit of doing, the creation of something beautiful against a culture of humiliation and cruelty sets in motion an incredible transformation.

Who’s in it?

Nadia Fall’s company brings alive Wertenbaker’s words with pure electricity as Fall injects passion and poignancy with her powerful direction.

While this is truly an ensemble triumph, there are a number of stand-out performances that ensure this play resonates. Notably, an unrecognisable Jodie McNee gives a stark turn as the hard as nails Liz Morden. As the last remaining dignity is ripped from the fated convict, McNee’s heart-wrenching rawness is only equalled by a sensational Paul Kaye who twitches, spits and unravels in the most skin crawling way possible as the mentally unbalanced Midshipman Harry Brewer.

Jason Hughes gives a gripping performance as Ralph, moving seamlessly from sanctimonious to humbled, while Caoilfhionn Dunne shines as his muse Mary Brenham and Lee Ross brings warmth and humanity as the grandiose pick pocket Sideway.

What should I look out for?

Cerys Matthews’ music that adds moments of beauty to the brutality. Mixing folk with sea shanties and melancholic ballads, it aches with homesickness and will fill your stomach with a thousand butterflies. While the cast handles the songs well, it is musician Josienne Clarke’s clear, haunting voice that will send shivers up your spine.

In a nutshell?

Beauty and brutality combine in Nadia Fall’s epic and passionate shattering staging of Our Country’s Good.

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Will I like it?

It’s a bold statement, but I’m going to say there can be no better stage for Wertenbaker’s modern classic than the National Theatre. It’s a love letter to theatre that the National Theatre should rightly embody and with its backdrop a vast, empty Aboriginal Australia, the scale of the Olivier Theatre in Nadia Fall’s hands – so capable of making the epic feel both emotionally overwhelming and utterly relatable – provides the perfect stage. Go to be blown away.

Our Country’s Good is playing until 17 October. You can book tickets through us here.

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