People are people if you treat them as such. This strong and simple message takes almost three hours to deliver in Strawberry Theatre Workshop’s Our Country’s Good.
The setting is mid-eighteenth century Australia, as the first colony of criminals is arriving. The show focuses on a group of convicts as they join with the officers to put on a play for the inmates.
Our Country’s Good is a show that explores the power of theatre and the power of humanity, especially in a time when many people have had theirs stolen by a system that views them as liabilities. The ensemble is a collage of Londoners arrested for relatively petty crimes, though viewed by the soldiers as inhuman. Throughout the show you can see that mentality affects them. In the second act, a character is arrested and sent to be hung. She is asked to defend herself, but stays quiet because she thinks the trial won’t be fair. It is a singular moment in a show about the unfairness of the prison system, and it rings true in this production full of cuttable moments. While certain scenes are well crafted and deliver the message well, it seems the 1988 script by Timberlake Wertenbaker has a want of editing in this adaptation, specifically around pacing. The first act, while wonderful for character introductions and development, moves slow plot-wise, making it a tedious experience.
The set for each scene was interpreted and crafted abstractly, yet vividly, with boxes and doors illustrating rowboats and beds. The ship-like stage fills the round theatre with the raw smell of sawdust. The lighting of the show is used to fill the spaces that the abstract set could not. The combination of potent spotlights and hyper-realistic lanterns give scenes a certain intimacy. For example, in earlier scenes during the ship’s passage, spotlights are used to specify which character was speaking, and later in the show, soft lighting and lanterns are used for bedside scenes.
The acting is brilliant, with each actor playing several parts seamlessly and gracefully, and it is a treat to watch them leave as one character and enter as another. However, the sometimes unintelligible accents and dated language made some monologues incomprehensible. There are several monologues in the show that feel like they have a certain gravity, but of which I only understood a few words.
Overall, while the show is interesting, there is just too much of it. The technical aspects are enjoyable, especially the small details around costuming, and the message of hope for humanity is pure. The show would have been perfectly enjoyable, had the runtime been just an hour shorter.
Our Country's Good played at Strawberry Theatre Workshop January 23-February 22, 2020. For more event information see here.