Monthly Archives: October 2015

Our Country’s Good

Our-Countrys-GoodOur Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker
At The Olivier, National Theatre
13th October, 2015

‘The Greeks believed that it was a citizen’s duty to watch a play. It was a kind of work in that it required attention, judgment, patience, all social virtues.

It was the Australian author Thomas Keneally’s 1987 novel, ‘The Playmaker’ which inspired Timberlake Wertenbaker to dramatise the true story of the convicts’ staging of the Irish writer George Farquar’s 1706 farce, ‘The Recruiting Officer.’ This revival is topical at a time when education in Britain’s overcrowded prisons is at low ebb and people who run drama projects are patronised. Whilst more liberal attitudes prevail today, the debates in the play on finding the right balance between punishment and rehabilitation are still as relevant as at the time when the play is set.
The context for the play is Australia in the late 18th century which was partly a dumping ground for the refuse of Britain’s prisons. The first convict ship arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, crammed with England’s outcasts; most were from the lower end of the criminal scale: petty thieves or pickpockets, including an 87 year old woman who stole a biscuit and a young Irish man who refused to work for nothing.
Peter McIntosh’s bright, colourful backdrop: a cyclorama of red earth and bright sun backdrop is a nod to Aboriginal art and the stereotypical image of a foreign landscape. Enter the ‘Aborigine’ as the politically correct programme describes the almost silent observer. He watches and dances and says the odd word when he foretells his own death from being infected by the foreigners’ disease. It is a strange policy of colour blind casting when the aboriginal is played by a white actor and the Governor, Captain Philip ( Cyril Nri) and Captain Tench ( Jonathan Livingstone) are played by black actors. Perhaps, Nri’s authoritative stage presence is meant to feel like a comment on slavery and Empire.
In contrast, the revolving stage bursts open to reveal prisoners in the bowels of the ship. Their visceral words evoke the sense of rough justice by the military during the journey.
Once in Australia, the idealistic governor maintains that the convicts are there to ‘create a new society’. Their involvement in theatre would act as a humanising force. He therefore supports Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, who is looking for some meaning to his own life, in staging the play, even though he knows he risks trouble by offending the more conservative elements of the military. With the objective to celebrate the King’s birthday in 1789, the transported convicts rehearse Farquhar’s classic farce, which thus became the first play ever to be staged in the penal colony. Continue reading Our Country’s Good

People, Places, Things

People Places, Things 2‘People, Places, Things’
At the Dorfman Theatre
2nd October, 2015

‘If you’re really lucky, you get to be onstage and say things that are absolutely true, even if they’re made-up.’
‘There are substances I can put into my bloodstream that make the world perfect.’

Having previously enjoyed Jeremy Herrin’s the spell-binding ‘The Nether’ (Royal Court, Duke of York’s theatre) , 1984,and the RSC’s versions of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’/ ‘Bringing up the Bodies’, the motivation to see another Headlong production was strong.
The title comes from the AA creed that alcoholics are powerless over the ‘people, places and things’ that cue their desire for drink or drugs so the prescription is a 12-step recovery i.e. the avoidance of People with whom you use drugs, the Places where you score and use and the Things that act as a trigger to use.

From the outset, it is clear that Duncan Macmillan’s play is about reality and how we make our own reality. It opens with a scene from Chekhov’s ‘The Seagull’ with the actress, ‘Emma’, playing the forlorn Nina at breaking point. Thus the message of disintegrated hopes is enacted at the start, introducing us to Emma’s thespian ‘other-life’ , referencing troubled themes in plays by Ibsen and Chekhov.

There’s a reason for the blurring of identity: Emma is an alcoholic, suffering from multiple substance abuse, which has led to blackouts and one suicide attempt. Soon she checks herself into a rehab centre to undergo the detox regime but she doesn’t buy into her perceived bogus beliefs of the AA-style journey to recovery. From the start, the self-absorbed, self-pitying and deceitful Emma lies constantly and admits to telling lies and thus prevents us from surrendering our sympathy to her. Her risk assessment involves not being resistant to the clinic’s culture of sharing and honesty, but by the second act, she gives herself to it.

Continue reading People, Places, Things