Walking into the Bedlam Theatre it was nearly unrecognizable. The company of Our Country’s Good has transformed the stage, extending it into the audience, replacing the space lost to this extension with seating around the edges of the stage. Taking advantage of this, I sat myself in one of the on-stage seats. It was before I could get over my slight discomfort of not being another face in a crowd, that the play began. The lights dropped and suddenly there were bone chilling screams. This first scene depicted the travel of the convict ships to Australia in a vividly raw way. The screams rose from a character that was being brutally whipped. Immediately and without warning the play had started, the tone was set and the audience was engrossed.
This production of Our Country’s Good was impressive, and my biggest issues were with the script itself. I occasionally found myself lost in the dialogue as the scene-setting speech was hidden within the guise of other conversations. Even then, I quickly forgot about this confusion as the play continued.
The acting was incredible. Most actors took on two roles, one of a convict and one of an officer. Flipping between the abuser and the abused required talent: an ability to shift your tone, attitude and intention. It also highlighted the fact that all the characters are people, no matter their traits. That being said, the stand out performances were found within the convict characters. The humanity, pain, emotion, love, loss, struggle, joy, humor, and redemption captured by the convict characters played on the hearts of the audience, keeping us engrossed in their stories, as well as the wider play. Liz, played by Tiffany Garnham, is a brilliant character brilliantly portrayed. The idea of redemption flowed from her story line, along with a pain and sympathy that is undeniable. Duckling and Wisehammer, played by Anna Swinton and Matthew Sedman respectively, offered the audience emotional performances. The character of Duckling gave a raw and often discomforting tale of brutal love, while Wisehammer was powerfully endearing. The officers were essential to the story and well portrayed, but, as I believe is the purpose of the play, it was the convicts that sold the show.
It is important to note the goal of this play. Our Country’s Good tells the tale of redemption in order to show the humanity of prisoners and raise questions in the audience about the current treatment of people in the prison system. This production was immaculately done. I give credit to the directors, Luke Morley and Jane Prinsley, as they captured this theme and conveyed it to the audience. I believe there was not a single audience member that did not walk away with, at least, sympathy for the convicts if not a deep heart break at the conditions displayed.
This production of Our Country’s Good, showing at Bedlam Theatre from the 26th of February to the 3rd of March, was a striking production that I am glad I did not miss.