Writer: Timberlake Wertenbaker
Director: Fiona Buffini
Designer: Neil Murray
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
In 2014 five dynamic and distinct theatre companies collaborated to create a ground-breaking production of The Threepenny Opera. No one had predicted that the success of this venture would see the collective invite two more organisations to join the fray. Thus Ramps on the Moon consortium was born, comprising of Nottingham Playhouse, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Graeae Theatre, Sheffield Theatres and Theatre Royal Stratford East. With so much being contributed to this melting pot the expectation is set pretty high and with such an ambitious undertaking Our Country’s Good hopes to expand on the company’s growing reputation.
There are surtitles throughout and each character’s lines are interpreted in British Sign Language. Traditionally an interpreter would stand at the side of the stage, separate from the action. Here characters sign for each other and are a part of the scene. This makes a huge declaration about not ignoring or separating people with hearing impairment. What’s so exciting is that this is explored in many ways, always building on the context of the scene. For example, when the officers are dining and considering the benefits of a play, two actors play their own parts while at the same time signing for the other characters. With those for the play, on one side, and those against on the other (a little on the nose in terms of staging) we see the two passionately expressing multiple points of view conveying the conflict. In more intimate scenes where two officers are speaking privately some of the convicts sit downstage and observe the action, interpreting the dialogue but also contributing some of their own lines. Some characters speak for others which is sensitively executed. Mary Bryant (played by Sapphire Joy) stands aside and watches Duckling (played by Emily Rose Salter) while speaking her lines, always responding generously to her acting.
The ensemble is what makes this production stand out, the play itself is so much about camaraderie so it’s crucial that we have the sense of a community flourishing. Tom Dawze is endearing as Wisehammer. Keiron Jecchinis is a measured and calmly authoritative Captain Arthur Phillip. Dave Fishley intelligently conveys the manner of Captain David Collins well but the temperament is slightly misjudged, his lines often being bellowed out of nowhere which was somewhat jarring and confusing. Emily Rose Salter as Duckling found a comedic element rarely explored in this role. Fifi Garfield is bold as Dabby.
Real sand is strewn about the stage with a few fractured wooden pallets to represent the floor. More pallets are added and jigsawed in as the colony grown and strengthens. The Australian sky gives the creative lighting designer ample opportunity and Mark Jonathan has effected the brutal heat and brilliant skyscape of this new world.
While certainly groundbreaking in its commitment to promoting accessibility, creatively the show does nothing new. Little is done to challenge the traditional approach to this well-known play. However, if you want to see a show that celebrates and welcomes diversity while demonstrating with ease that the theatre can and should be for everyone, not on selected performances but every night, then this show is the one for you. Eye-opening and a huge step forward in terms of progress. An important contribution to the changing landscape of British Theatre.
Reviewed on 14 May 2018 | Image: Contributed