Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker

Bath Spa Theatre Society

The Mission Theatre

Monday 22nd May, 2017

Following their successful debut at The Mission Theatre last year with Punk Rock, Bath Spa Theatre Society’s second outing brings Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, Our Country’s Good to visceral reality. It tells the story of Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s attempts to stage a play in one of Australia’s first penal colonies using a convict cast, some of whom are facing the noose.

The Society’s adaptation opens on a striking tableau – a harsh gaoler stalking cowed prisoners, the creak of the hull and the peals of a ship’s bell – and continues with a twisted intimacy which heightens the already disturbed source material. Though tonally Our Country’s Good moves effortlessly between uncomfortable moments of abuse, well-measured humour and philosophical musings, an overarching air of menace pervades from start to finish. Staging in particular helps with this, employing a raw minimalism which, combined with a technically superb use of lighting and sound, evoke a stark and savage sense of place.

The cast of convicts are a wonderfully portrayed, varied set of characters, at best when colliding in back-and-forth, flirtation and rivalry. Of particular note is Rhys Owen’s Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, whose strong performance provides the focal point for the rest of the cast, including Isabella Culver’s rough yet dignified Liz Morden, Rebecca Walker’s bawdy, crowd-pleasing Bryant, and the engaging, well-realised officers played by Simon Crispin and Kieran Haines.

With the cast taking on multiple roles however, some characters see more life than others, and the show is certainly stronger in its ensemble scenes than in its slower, philosophical moments. When the full cast meet in the convict’s rehearsals, or the officer’s mess, it is simply a joy to watch, their boisterous and lively performance becoming a thing greater than its parts.

In all, the production finds an excellent foundation in Charlotte Claydon and Oliver Robinson-Sivyer’s attentive direction. Claydon’s talent as an utterly capable director is as much in evidence now as it was last year, and the partnership with Robinson-Sivyer shows a new level of innovative storytelling.  

Fans of last year’s Punk Rock, or those looking for a thought-provoking piece of theatre, won’t be disappointed by Our Country’s Good, a striking and absorbing production.

Joshua Lambert