Funny & Complex
Toronto has waited a long time for a show that shook the foundation of humanity with both humour and emotion. The visiting production of playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good succeeds at just this.
Brought to us by Out of Joint Theatre headed by director Max Stafford-Clark, he packs a vision unique to himself. And with a steady eye to balance such an important story about that which exists deep within all of us, theatre magic is alive on King Street.
The play is about a prison colony in Australia in the 1780’s, where Governor Phillip and captains David Collins and Watkin Tench discuss the case of men being sentenced to death for stealing food. Phillip is unsure whether putting them to death will do any good, which leads to a discussion about rehabilitating prisoners vs. punishment. Phillip wonders if it would be a good idea to stage a play.
They give the task of directing to Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark who chooses the male and female convicts to perform the play. Throughout this process, the prisoners become “humanized” as they forget their lives and become immersed in the production.
Wertenbaker calls for actors to take on double roles in the text, so men are playing women and vice versa. Each actor plays different parts for a reason, as each character has his/her personality mirrored in the multiple characters played by each actor.
This play is probably the best example of quality humanistic impulses. Theatre of this blend typically wallows in sentimentalism but this absurdist comedy truly embodies the basic principals without being preachy or heavy-handed.
It is really quite a funny piece with very complex, layered humor and darker moments. Also, it is imbued with a playful and vibrant sexuality, especially the scenes between Harry Brewer and Duckling Smith. Its “message” is never overbearing, and it testifies to the power of theatre as a healing force.
Review by Jennifer Barker
OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD by Timberlake Wertenbaker Sept. 13 – Oct. 26, 2014 ROYAL ALEXANDRA THEATRE, 260 King St., West, Toronto TICKETS$25.00 – $99.00 416-872-1212 www.mirvish.com CAST Simon Darwen, Victoria Gee, Sam Graham, Nathan Ives-Moiba, Cornelius McCarthy, Richard Neale, David Newman, Kathryn O’Reilly, Anna Tierney, Jessica Tomchak DIRECTOR Max Stafford Clark SET & COSTUMES Tim Shortall LIGHTING Johanna Town SOUND DESIGN Andy Smith