Our Country’s Good at St James Theatre
Famed playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker and genius director Max Stafford Clark are back, and it sure is for Our Country’s Good. The play premiered in 1988 at the Royal Court Theatre, when austerity was omnipresent in Britain.
Twenty five years on, economic cuts prevail more than ever (in theatre especially), and a revival of this modern classic is definitely well-timed.
The audience is invited to follow a group of convicts shipped from England to Australia by marines in 1789. Under the guidance of the young marine officer Ralph Clark, these supposed thieves, murderers and prostitutes will discover their ability to create another world: a world of theatre. Punishment, injustice, courage, friendship and love form the pattern of this fascinating theatrical mise en abyme.
The cast are mesmerizing and astonishing as they play both marines and convicts with the right doses of humour, anger and sorrow. Political but far from melodramatic, Our Country’s Good celebrates freedom and redemption on the stage, proving that “a play is a world in itself”.
From the costumes to the set, including sound effects and lights, Max Stafford-Clark brilliantly gathers all the details to guarantee success. On the evidence of the applause at the end of the show, he does well, despite budget restrictions.
The Arts Council have cut the funding to the theatre company (Out Of Joint) by 20% in the last year, so when asked about the relevance of the play to today’s society, Stafford-Clark answers: “Cameron and Osborne have done more damage to the arts in the last few years than Thatcher did in three terms of office”.
Fresh from a triumphant tour, the Olivier Award-winning play will enlighten St James Theatre’s stage for one more month. If there is one must-see West End play this season, it is this one.