3 / 5 stars
Our Country’s Good, a tale of the role of theatre in rehabilitation and education set in an eighteenth century Australian colony. Unsure of what to expect from this production, I was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted with incredibly long bedsheets draped over the rigging. As strange as this may sound, accompanied with the lighting it made for a very effective and striking set. As a student production, the set was naturally very minimal with just the sheets and wooden pallets, but they were utilised with great effect in each scene, making the transition from ship to tent to cells very distinguishable.
The director, Helena Jacques-Morton, states that this play features a “wannabe director.” In all honesty, in some scenes I questioned her decisions. Whilst I understand that to create an environment, actors need to become a part of the set, trying to understand what a character is saying whilst holding up a pallet, with their face turned away and their arm covering their mouth, is incredibly difficult. There were also times when the scene changes, although smooth and well-rehearsed, detracted from the scene that had come before. For example, when it was time for Rose Macauly’s character to profess her love for a dying Andrew Chalmers, the exit of both characters compromised the emotion of that scene, and as an audience member I was left confused and bored.
This boredom was not aided by the fact that in many cases throughout the play, sound was an issue for quite a few characters. I am aware that microphones are not always possible, but in this case many lines were lost when the actors lowered their voices to convey certain emotions. It was also the case that as many of the cast had dual roles, it was difficult to distinguish the relationships of each character. Although the change in beautiful costumes helped determine who was convict and who captain, the onstage chemistry was lost when the characters had to interact with each other. It is very easy to spit at someone, but the contempt and conviction seemed to be lacking.
This is not to say, however, that the cast weren’t talented. There were many points throughout the play that impressed me. Alice Gold as Dabby Bryant, Andrew Chalmers as Captain Jemmy Campbell, and Louis Catliff as Robert Sideways provided much needed comic relief, with near perfect comedic timing and great physicality. Another stand out moment was Jen Grace’s stirring monologue as the damned and destitute Liz Morden. Detailing the hardship of life was an engaging and emotional moment in the show. It seemed a running feature, however, that the onstage chemistry of the cast when they were convicts was much greater and more engaging than when they were officers, making those moments arduous to watch and superficial.
The final thing I have to comment on is the use of multi media in this production. As some of you may be aware, this play is narrated by an aboriginal Australian man who keeps the running theme of dreams and colonialism running through the play. The way in which this was done was through recordings projected on to screens either side of the audience. This, for me, failed. I found the screens distracting and the clicking and view of the mouse and progress bar unprofessional. I appreciate the idea, but it just didn’t work in practice.
Overall I would have to say I enjoyed this performance due to the innovative staging and comic relief of the characters. I would say that Helena has been successful in her production, but the blocking of certain characters and delivery of some lines may want to be looked at in the future. It was an interesting portrayal of discipline vs rehabilitation in eighteenth century Australia.