Our Country’s Good is based on the true story of a group of convicts rehearsing and performing The Recruiting Officer in Australia 1789. This story inspired Thomas Keneally, an Australian author, to write his novel The Playmaker. This play is loosely based on that novel but Timberlake Wertenbaker has also created an original piece that uses the historical fact as an inspiration for her own version of the story. We have no evidence that any of the scenes in the play actually took place, they’re all imaginings of what might have taken place.
I was drawn to the script by its great characters, story, setting and writing. The characters in the play are so interesting and unique. The officers have been sent there to guard the convicts who are serving out a sentence and the place that they’ve been sent to is unique. They were the first Western settlers in Australia, a most unlikely group of people to start a colony. It’s a real adventure story about a group of people who against all odds, founded a nation. The Aboriginal experience is also represented in the play.
The thing I love about the play is its themes. It examines redemption, the power of theatre, status and stereotypes. The play is a serious drama, but it is also a comedy; it’s funny, moving and shocking as well.
Our set has been beautifully designed by Neil Murray. He’s captured the sense of people trying to make a world in a place that’s been untouched by Western civilisation. Audiences will see the huge sky that everybody’s living under, the sandy beach and the forest that surrounds them. It’s a period piece as well and the costumes are absolutely fantastic. The Officers all look like Jane Austen heroes and the convicts are absolutely ragged. It’s a visual treat and is going to look absolutely stunning.
Our Country’s Good is a Ramps on the Moon production which means accessibility is embedded into the show. For example, this means the set is accessible to any cast member who might be using a wheelchair. And in rehearsals, because about a third of the seventeen cast members are D/deaf or hearing impaired, we have 4 interpreters who are working alongside us. It’s an amazing experience to be working with so many people; this brings a wonderful energy; tiring and very exciting all at the same time. The actors are all lovely and are working very hard and it’s wonderful to be working on a play that’s funny which makes rehearsals very joyful.
We’re delivering the show in two languages which may be new to some audience members – BSL is right in the middle of the action – but it’s incredibly exhilarating and exciting. Such inclusivity is incredibly important to the Playhouse. We are a theatre for everyone, telling everyone’s stories, exploring human experiences that we may not be familiar with and developing new ways of working. This makes us richer as an organisation and as human beings.
The Ramps on the Moon project challenges the preconceptions that audiences and theatre makers have about what can and can’t be done. For far too long, D/deaf and disabled performers and creatives have lacked profile. Whilst there is a lot of really high-quality work being produced by companies such as Deafinitely theatre, Birds of Paradise and others, Ramps on the Moon brings work to audiences right across the country, challenging myths and preconceptions. My own ideas of what’s possible to do in a theatre have been transformed by the previous Ramps on the Moon productions of The Government Inspector and Tommy. That the previous productions have been so successful has been a great inspiration for us making Our Country’s Good.
Our Country’s Good has been studied at GCSE so it’s suitable for anybody over 14 that loves a good story, especially one about theatre. Even though it’s set in the past, the language of the play is very modern. And, it’s a great play for women – the women’s parts are absolutely wonderful – so it’s a real play of the moment. It shows very clearly the gender imbalance that exists in the world of the convicts still exists today. The female characters rise above that rather magnificently and are incredibly strong.
Our Country’s Good runs at Nottingham Playhouse from Friday 9 – Saturday 24 March. Book your tickets here