Review Roundup: OUR COUNTRY'S GOOD at the St. James Theatre
Timberlake Wertenbaker's Olivier Award winning play Our Country's Good, has announced 2 extra weeks at the St. James Theatre. Max Stafford-Clark's 25th anniversary opened 4 February and will now run until Saturday 23 March.
Australia 1789: An ambitious young lieutenant, RalpH Clark, is set the task of directing a cast of dispirited convicts in the Restoration comedy 'The Recruiting Officer'. But with growing suspicion from his fellow officers, just two copies of the script, his leading lady about to be hanged, and an uncontrollable passion for the convict Mary Brenham, Ralph's - and Australia's - first theatre production is in trouble from the start.
Let's see what the critics had to say:
Michael Coveney of whatsonstage.com writes: Our Country's Good is going to carry renewed impact at a time of cuts and the economic - some say politically motivated - threat to arts activities in schools and indeed prisons; the glorious second act of this play is a metaphorical hymn to the act of making theatre in a community that has learned to define itself in the process.
Paul Taylor of the Independent says: 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 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.
Michael Billington of the Guardian states: Max Stafford-Clark, revisiting the play, offers infinitely more than a carbon copy of his original Royal Court production. John Hollingworth is outstanding as both the colony's progressive governor and a word-drunk snuff-stealer; Kathryn O'Reilly is hugely impressive as the flinty thief who ultimately saves her neck by discovering her voice; and Dominic Thorburn lends the second lieutenant, who supervises the Farquhar play, the right priggish stiffness. A quarter of a century on, it's a play that still leaves its audience, like its subjects, transported.
Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph writes: 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, and the production starts as it means to go on with one of the prisoners receiving a hundred ferocious lashes before being dumped back in the hold.
Quentin Letts of mailonline writes: Laura Dos Santos is sweet, if perhaps a little dull, as Mary Brenham, a petty thief who is cast as the colony's first lead actress. Dominic Thorburn is the young officer who directs the show and falls for Mary. If these two have a surfeit of sickly innocence, Kathryn O'Reilly and Helen Bradbury serve up some redeeming grit with their two rough-house women. Lisa Kerr gives us one of her gamine turns as a girl called Duckling. Amid much doubling-up of the good cast, John Hollingworth and Ian Redford catch the eye.
Naima Khan of Spoonfed says: On the surface, Our Country's Good looks like a 25 year-old play about the ways theatre can improve lives. But set in the first penal colony in Australia, it looks at the a lot of bulky themes that steer this show just far enough away from the self-indulgent meta-theatre it could be. With the aboriginal population starving at the fences, a delegate of British Royal Marines newly arrived in the first penal colony of Australia attempt to civilise the convicts in their care by staging a production of The Recruiting Officer.
Sarah Hemming of FT.com writes: 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. His production for Out of Joint comes as theatres and companies struggle with funding cuts: Stafford-Clark is a master in the art of witty yet serious provocation.
Aleks Sierz of the artsdesk.com writes: Stafford-Clark's sterling production is warm, appealing and light on its feet. Tim Shortall's set - with its wooden platform, painted backcloths and barred doors - evokes the 18th-century world, and the merciless sun and dusty atmosphere provide the Australian context. The ensemble cast - featuring Helen Bradbury as Dabby, Kathryn O'Reilly as Liz and Laura Dos Santos as Mary (pictured above right) - are all good and double up as at least two characters each, regardless of gender.