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Our Country’s Good

Shalisha James-Davis and Paul Kaye in Our Country's Good. Photo: Simon Annand

Commissioned by Max Stafford-Clark in 1988 to play in rep with Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play has become a respected and much-loved classic. Her starting point was Thomas Keneally’s novel, The Playmaker, about a real event in 18th century Australia: the performance of Farquhar’s play by the first convict colonists. But she also comments implicitly on the treatment of prisoners now and celebrates the transformative power of art, especially theatre.

Nadia Fall’s chief innovation is to weave music, some traditional, some newly written, some from elsewhere, into the narrative. While the sheer beauty of this occasionally softens the toughness of a piece (which does not shrink from showing the brutality of treatment meted out to convicts, male and female) it ultimately adds another dimension. Cerys Matthews’ mixture of songs from different sources is a reminder of the challenges of migration, forced or otherwise, and provides another powerful, emotional medium, especially as rendered in Josienne Clarke’s bell-like voice.

The Olivier stage gives a sense of the intimidating space of an unknown land with the revolve used to good effect against Peter McKintosh’s backdrop with its striations of red, blue and brown suggesting Aboriginal painting.

Among an exemplary ensemble, Jodie McNee’s fierce, indomitable, tuft-haired Liz Morden is outstanding. Ashley McGuire’s worldly Devonian Dabby knows how to land a comic line, Cyril Nri’s Captain Phillip provides the measured voice of humanity and Jason Hughes gives the play’s determined director Ralph Clark a fervent romanticism.

The ending, as the convict performance begins – to Purcell rather than Beethoven – is as uplifting as ever.

The Olivier stage and Cerys Matthews' music bring an epic quality to Wertenbaker's play

Production Information

Our Country's Good
Olivier, National Theatre
August 19, 2015
October 17, 2015
Press night
August 26, 2015
Timberlake Wertenbaker
Cerys Matthews
Nadia Fall
Musical director
Kevin Amos
Arthur Pita
Peter McKintosh
Neil Austin
Carolyn Downing
Peter McKintosh
Kate Waters (fight director), Emma Child and Daniel Radley Bennett (digital art), Yvonne Milnes (costume supervisor)
Stage manager
Alex Constantin
Production manager
Tariq Hussain
Cast includes
Cyril Nri, Jason Hughes, Jodie McNee, Ashley McGuire, Caoilfhionn Dunne, Peter Forbes, Matthew Cottle, Paul Kaye, Shalisha James-Davis
Charlotte Bevan
National Theatre
Running time
2hrs 55mins