Our Country’s Good – reviews

a picture from the production of a man and woman looking at each other with an image of the mood in the background.

Reviews from February 2013

4 STARS
“Our Country’s Good is Timberlake Wertenbaker’s phenomenal play about the early colonisation of Australia and the redemptive powers of theatre as a group of transported convicts stage a production of a classic in a penal colony in New South Wales in the 1780s. Now back in London, directed again by Max Stafford-Clark who was also responsible for its original Royal Court premiere 25 years ago, this is one of the great plays of and about the theatre, staged by one of its greatest living exponents with overwhelming warmth and humanity.”
Mark Shenton, Sunday Express, 10 February 2013

4 STARS
Bursting with humanity, humour, heartache and passion and Stafford-Clark’s vivid and absorbing revival of one of his greatest hits finds all the drama’s strengths. Tim Shortall’s evocative design of wooden spars and canvas sails suggest the ship on which the convicts first made their terrible journey to the other side of the world… The power of the story, based on Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, constantly grips… Kathryn O’Reilly gives a brilliantly sparky and furious performance… John Hollingworth is excellent… Laura Dos Santos is deeply touching… Ian Redford shines”
Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph, 5 February 2013

4 STARS
“Every now and then a new play comes along that becomes an instant modern classic. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good is one such drama. First staged 25 years ago, this rich, warm play, with its impassioned advocacy of the humanising power of art, became an immediate hit. Now Max Stafford-Clark, who staged the original, has mounted a fleet-footed revival, and the play has lost none of its punch… Huge themes roll around the stage – about art, social injustice and inequity, punishment and reform. But Wertenbaker also paints a vivid picture of an impromptu community improvising their way forward… This is a playful but profound piece of theatre: didactic, yet complex; angry, yet charged with hope…  Stafford-Clark’s fine, nimble cast rise to this admirably, with Dominic Thorburn standing out as the earnest director Clark. A modern masterpiece, lovingly revived.”
Sarah Hemming, Financial Times, 5 February 2013

4 STARS
“Max Stafford-Clark’s definitive revival for his Out of Joint company, 25 years on, is as persuasive of the play’s qualities as was his recent re-visiting of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls; neither play needed rehabilitation, exactly, but both can triumphantly claim “modern classic” status… The play is simple yet many-layered and resonant, historical and modern, gritty and theatrical, didactic and emotionally engaging…. It’s simply one of the best plays of the past 50 years, ending in a yelp of delight and a volley of Beethoven”
Michael Coveney, Whatsonstage.com, 5 February 2013

4 STARS
“A glowingly persuasive and beautifully cast revival… Wertenbaker’s play is unashamedly idealistic but it’s not sentimental. As Dominic Thornburn’s performance finely traces, the director, Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, starts off as a prim, guarded type, primarily motivated by ambition, and only gradually thaws as he falls in love and as the project struggles to fight the institutional injustice that lands several of the cast in chains and one of the leading ladies under threat of hanging. The uphill battle is often very funny. Pointed doubling, executed with tremendous vigour here, is built into the nature of the play, with the same actors portraying both the oppressors and the oppressed. It emphasises how many of these unfortunates, dumped on the other side of the world for petty crimes, were paying the price for being assigned the wrong costume (so to speak) at birth and how a theatrical production can offer a microcosmic image of liberating self-transcendence and true community.  Warmly recommended.”

Paul Taylor, The Independent, 5 February 2013 


Reviews from Autumn 2012 (same production and cast)

4 STARS
“The sense of dignity emerging from hopelessness is beautiful: extraordinary to watch… The play is mesmerisingly atmospheric, its language arcane and full-bodied. Scene rushes headlong upon scene. A prisoner conjures blazing memories of London, a drunken old midshipman speaks to the ghosts of hanged men, an idealistic young lieutenant directs the play and falls in love with his lead actress.

“Tim Shortall’s design places the action within a tough wooden frame, evoking a ship, a prison, a theatre and a gallows. Johanna Town’s lighting segues exquisitely from murk to exotic brightness. The cast of ten are wonderfully fluid, steeped in understanding of what they are about. Helen Bradbury, as a convict dreaming of Devon rain, has eyes full of stoic despair; Ciaran Owens is bang on the money as both a sadistic officer and a reluctant hangman; Ian Redford plays several parts, every one of them astonishingly.”
The Daily Telegraph

4 STARS
An excellent cast… Dominic Thorburn gives a delectably comic picture of frustrated theatrical ambition… A consummate revival of a modern classic”

The Guardian

“I love this angry and beautiful play…  The production works brilliantly on so many levels, with the cast doubling and tripling roles so that there is not only a play within a play but an actor can be giving voice to both persecutor and persecuted. The comedy is rich and laugh out loud. Matthew Needham’s Robert Sideway out-Bottoms Bottom in his thespian aspirations, and the savagery with which Kathryn O’Reilly as the feral Liz Morden roars out her lines can bring the house down. Yet there is such tenderness and anguish too, especially from Ian Redford as the foolish and tormented Harry Brewer, Laura Dos Santos as the intelligent Mary Brenham, and Dominic Thorburn as the callow second lieutenant, Ralph Clark. That he is also redeemed is one of the play’s greatest triumphs.”
The Stage

4 STARS
Uplifting… Fascinating… Robustly theatrical… When the play veers into harrowing waters, it is always redeemed by a sense of hope. Nowhere more so than in the simple love that springs from Laura Dos Santos’s leading lady in Dominic Thorburn’s production of the play within the play. Despite attempts to sabotage his show with executions – and ham acting – Thorburn’s lieutenant remains tenaciously innocent, and Dos Santos’s Mary beautifully bright-eyed”

Daily Mail

4 STARS
“Audiences are in for a treat… Timberlake Wertenbaker’s script seamlessly merges exposition with deeply moving and lyrical dialogue and some of the best theatrical in-jokes since The Producers. Max Stafford -Clark offers a master class of direction… All of the techniques employed are in the service of telling the story in as clear and exciting a way as possible. So successfully do the cast absorb themselves into the wide range of characters it is a surprise, at curtain call, to see that there are only ten members.”

Whatsonstage.com – full review

“A real treat – funny, thought-provoking, fascinating and uplifting… The convicts’ triumph in puting on a play in the face of starvation, cruelty and the hangman’s noose is a victory for humanity. And so is this production”
Manchester Evening News

“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.”
The Public Reviews – full review

“A funny, touching and occassionally harrowing play, which is a testament to the redeeming nature of human creativity”
The Bolton News

5 stars
“This is a beautiful, compelling and absorbing production from the Octagon Theatre Bolton and Stafford Clark’s Out of Joint company. His excellent direction, Tim Shortall’s wonderfully evocative staging and a brilliant ensemble cast, make this a perfect night’s theatre.”

The Morning Star

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