This play is set in a penal colony in eighteenth century Australia. In order to reduce overcrowding in prisons, Britain has decided to transport criminals to Australia, where they will be forced to create a new colony. Many of them are young or have been convicted only of petty crimes. Conditions on the boats to Australia and in the colony are harsh and discipline is rigorously enforced by floggings and hangings. In order to improve the morale and self-esteem of the convicts the Governor, Arthur Philip, decides that they should put on a play.

Our Country’s Good revolves largely around Second Lieutenant Clark, who is first seen writing a journal addressed to his wife in England. It is clear that he and the other officers are almost as unhappy about being in Australia as are the convicts; they are also away from their homes, missing their families and suffering from food shortages. Clark is given the job of putting on a play. His first task is to cast the play, which is no easy job with many convicts unable to read and never having seen a play.

Clark’s attempts to train the convicts and rehearse the play are constantly undermined by Major Ross, a disciplinarian who feels nothing but contempt for the convicts and opposes the Governor’s decision to put on the play. However, despite all his attempts, the play goes ahead.

Our play ends as the convicts’ performance gets under way, so we are left to decide for ourselves whether the experiment worked.

The production is very intense and moving but also full of humour, particularly in the relationships and behaviour of the convicts. The first night performance overran by twenty minutes, so allow extra time. Well worth seeing.

Reviews by Alan Chorley

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The Blurb

Powerfully emotive and highly amusing: Wertenbaker's text recreates Britain's first Australian colony where the Governor decrees that theatre will help convicts overcome antisocial instincts. A talented young cast conveys the brutal authority and the inspirational underclass.

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