Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Fiona Buffini
Reviewer: Molly Richardson
Inspired by true stories and based on Thomas Kenally’s novel The Playmaker, Our Country’s Good transports the audience to 1787 for a powerful comedic drama about the harsh realities that convicts and slaves faced in the 1700s. After sailing over 700 of them to Australia, they are kept as prisoners with uncertain chances of survival; supplies are low, food is usually stolen, and attempting escape runs the risk of death.
Despite the opposition from the officers, and the threat of the leading lady being hanged, this group of convicts work with the Second Lieutenant to defy the odds that are stacked against them and rehearse and perform a play, which becomes Australia’s first theatrical production.
References made in the script can be tricky to understand at times, especially if you are not particularly up on your knowledge of theatrical figures, or the 1700s in terms of its history and lingo. Elements of the script also feel somewhat unnecessary or overdone with its sexual and derogatory terms; it just doesn’t add anything to the story or drive it forward, therefore, makes moments uncomfortable, but perhaps that is the point.
That aside, it’s a powerful story that reminds us of a cruel time in history where the class divide was even more obvious, and people became convicts for small matters like stealing a morsel of food to keep themselves or their families alive, and are therefore severely punished for crimes that are far less relevant in the modern world.
An impressive cast holds all of this together; Sapphire Joy, and Gbemisola Ikumelo are obvious standouts for their clear and punchy delivery alongside their amusing quirks and charms. Alex Nowak is in dual roles, but is most memorable as the eccentric and exaggerated Sideway. Though each cast member truly bring their character, or characters, to life and all have their moments to dig deep into the drama or catch a few laughs – the balance is just right.
The creative team of Rebecca Brown, Hannah Yahya Hassan and Jess Niemz have pieced together beautiful sounds, costumes and set. Each feeling relevant for the piece, flowing seamlessly, and the sound, in particular, is powerful and chilling, and further aids the production in being accessible for all.
Ramps On The Moon is undoubtedly one of the must-see theatre companies; it’s always a thrill to watch a fully diverse cast bring a story to life. The stories they tell may not always be conventional, but the craftsmanship that goes into each production is clear. Accessible theatre should be normality, not a rarity, and it’s inspiring to witness and exciting to be part of.
Overall, it’s not a production that’s going to be to everyone’s taste, but it’s creative, bold and gripping. The messages and themes clearly show that they are not only chained as criminals, but by social order and it implies the importance of seeing everyone as an individual and understanding who they are rather than judging on how they appear. Many of the guards who oppose the play see them as nothing more than lowlife convicts who were born that way, whereas Lieutenant Ralph Clark sees this as giving them a chance for change and redemption.
While it may not come across clearly on the surface, when digging deeper, you realise that the messages can still feel relevant now in the way we see people. Break away from your conventions, and see Our Country’s Good in all its artistic glory.
Runs until 7th April 2018 then tours | Image: Contributed