The West Yorkshire Playhouse is a brick and scaffold minimalist construction, fair warning of the pared down choice of food available in the cafe. Driving 100 miles through Friday evening rush hour traffic (and with no dinner) didn’t help, however, one bitter coffee and a limp roll restored some order.
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play is considered a modern classic, a play within a play telling the story of a group of eighteenth century convicts, some under the threat of execution, working with a marine officer to put on a performance of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer.
The Playhouse’s Courtyard Theatre was already working the ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ look with steel tubing, metal mesh walkways and cramped stuffiness. Set in Australia Our Country’s Good opens with the first convicts from England arriving at their motherland’s distant colony after an eight month voyage in appalling conditions. I did feel some empathy for the protagonists.
Squirming to a vaguely comfortable position I forgot my petty grievances and wallowed in all that I love about theatre: inventive use of props and scenery, words moving me in myriad ways, humour, dilemmas, representations of now and then, metaphor, inspired doubling – I could go on. You may wish instead to look at the study guides Out of Joint has helpfully provided in free downloadable form http://www.outofjoint.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/OurCountrysGood_ResourcePack.pdf
Max Stafford-Clark and Out of Joint were criticised in the 80s: the play was too left wing, “too political” as one of the characters happens to comment in the play within a play. Perhaps it is but then the company was born from socialist roots. For me Our Country’s Good is human; people working with and against each other for a cause, vital emotions channelled through real characters.
I am now on the lookout for Thomas Keneally’s The Playmaker on which Our Country’s Good was based. If ever there was an argument supporting the redemptive powers of theatre I found it in this play. Definitely worth the journey.