A touring production by Nottingham Playhouse of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s celebrated play Our Country’s Good is on at the Crucible in Sheffield.
It’s part of the Ramps On The Moon programme, in which six theatres take it in turn to produce a touring show which integrates disabled and non-disabled performers.
The choice of this play – based on a true story about a group of convicts in Australia being given the chance to act in The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar – is a bold one. Clearly the theme of empowerment is relevant to the aims of the programme. At the same time, the use of audio description, captioning and sign language adds a complex layer to an already multi-layered drama. The benefits in terms of opportunity and accessibility are undeniable, but it does sometimes lead to a slowish pace and a ‘clotted’ visual effect. Is this worth it? In a word, yes.
One of the characters describes the play-within-the play as ‘a diagram in the sand’. This is true of the play itself. It’s not a realistic portrayal of events and characters, but a fable about the possibilities for growth in an authoritarian society.
There are many individual lines that resonate for audiences today – touching on issues to do with exclusion, education, the importance of the arts, tolerance, immigration, liberal values, how ‘our country’ sees itself in the world.
The actors deliver their lyrical, funny, brutal lines with conviction and authority. Colin Connor is compelling as the rigid, intolerant Major Robbie Ross, as is Gbemisola Ikumelo as the truculent Liz Morden, condemned to hang for an offence she hasn’t committed, Alex Nowak as Robert Sideway, a petty thief with a love for the theatre, and Fergus Rattigan as James ‘Ketch’ Freeman, the hangman. But all have their moments.
Our Country’s Good is on until Saturday, May 19.