A profoundly humane piece of theatre, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good brings its tale of hope, redemption and art to the National Theatre.

Observed by a lone, mystified Aboriginal Australian, the first convict ship arrives in Botany Bay, 1788, crammed with England’s outcasts. Colony discipline in this vast and alien land is brutal. Three proposed public hangings incite an argument: how best to keep the criminals in line, the noose or a more civilised form of entertainment?

The ambitious Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark steps forward with a play. But as the mostly illiterate cast rehearses, and a sense of common purpose begins to take hold, the young officer’s own transformation is as marked and poignant as that of his prisoners.

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