1789. Sydney Cove. Supplies and morale are low. When Governor Arthur Philip hears that the convicts consider hanging to be “entertainment,” he wonders if they could be offered something more civilised. A play, perhaps?
Ambitious young 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark has two copies of George Farquhar’s famous comedy, The Recruiting Officer (coincidently being performed at the end of this month by the Blackwood Players), and homesick for London’s theatres, offers to direct it. His fellow officers are opposed, most of the cast is illiterate and one leading lady faces hanging, but with Phillip’s support auditions are held for what will be the first play to be staged in Australia.
Our Country’s Good follows the progress of the play’s rehearsals. As they work together to learn their lines and to adopt the manners of the upper classes they used to rob, Clark begins to see the convicts and their situation in the brutal colony differently. All the while, an unnamed Aboriginal observes, and comments, from a distance, on the effects the colony is having on his people.
American playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, based her play on The Playmaker, by Australian writer, Thomas Keneally, who had used the letters and journals of First Fleeters like Lt. Clark as inspiration for his novel. The characters in Our Country’s Good, convict and captor alike, were real people.
The first task Director, John Graham, set his cast was to search historical databases in preparation for their roles as 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Lee Cook); Governor Arthur Philip (Peter Collins); Captain David Collins RM (Tim Williams); Provost Marshall, Midshipman Harry Brewer RN (David Grieg); Captain Watkin Tench RM (Malcolm Walton); hangman, James “Ketch” Freeman (Dave Simms); the hardened criminal, Liz Morden (Katherine Silbereisen); the flamboyant pickpocket, Robert Sideway (Nathan Brown); shy Mary Brenham (Jean Collins); her outspoken friend, Dabby Bryant (Ellie McPhee); thief and prostitute, Duckling Smith (Kate van der Horst); Jewish thief, John Wisehammer (Jakob Maddocks); convict Black Caesar from Madagascar (Jason Sardinha); thief, John Arscott (Patrick Marlin); and ageing prostitute, Meg Long (Mo Johnson).
Winner of both the Olivier and New York Critics’ Circle Awards for its UK and US productions, Our Country’s Good premiered at The Royal Court Theatre in London for our Bicentennial in 1988. Most recently, London’s National Theatre revived it in 2015 to rave reviews.
The international success of the play is not surprising. It is not just a history lesson on the beginnings of theatre in Australia, but a powerful, moving, and surprisingly funny play about the possibility of redemption and the transforming powers of theatre everywhere.
And in a nice link with our local theatrical past, Stirling’s beautiful Community Theatre was built in 1883 “for the purpose of providing means of healthful recreation for the minds of the residents of Stirling West”. The Stirling Players think Arthur Philip would have approved.
WHEN: Fri & Sat 23, 24, 30 Sept & 1, 7, 8 Oct at 8pm. Sun 25 Sept & 2 Oct at 4pm. Backstage tour, Q&A and meet the cast after 25 Sept matinee.
WHERE: Stirling Community Theatre, Avenue Road, Stirling.
TICKETS: Adult $22, Conc. $18, Groups of 10+, $16.
Suitable for ages 12+. Adult themes, some coarse language
BOOKINGS: www.stirlingplayers.sct.org.au or phone 0414 075 413