“In my own small way, in just a few hours, I have seen something change”
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good was first produced 25 years ago by Max Stafford-Clark and his Out of Joint company and as it has remained an evergreen success, in no small part due to regular appearances as a set text for students, a revival makes good sense. And with Stafford-Clark taking on directorial duties once again, it makes for a fascinating chance to see an impresario revisiting a work with which he is inextricably linked.
Much of the appeal of Wertenbaker’s work lies in its celebration of theatre as a cultural medium but also as something more, something that can heal and restore the soul. And so as a group of convicts newly transported to Australia are convinced to put on a play – George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer – by an officer of reformist tendencies, we see the transformative power of drama and a subtle shift in the way that punishment is viewed as the idea of rehabilitation comes into play.
A vibrant young company bring a genuinely fresh energy to proceedings which makes the play feel like something new. Judicious use of doubling keeps us (and them) on their toes – John Hollingworth is simply excellent as the forward-thinking governor and a convict, Ian Redford covers four roles with a great nimbleness and there’s an embarrassment of riches in the female cast with any of Laura Dos Santos, Lisa Kerr, Helen Bradbury and Kathryn O’Reilly making a striking impression at one point or another.
And as I’m a shallow boy at heart, Dominic Thorburn as Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is one of the dreamiest things on the London stage at the moment. Even without the pictorial evidence that recently surfaced, displaying his not insubstantial…charms, he has the kind of gorgeously mellifluous voice (which called to mind the equally silkily voiced Rupert Evans) that really commanded my attention and highlighted the quandary of his officer who is, to all intents and purposes, as much of a prisoner as his charges.