Our Country’s Good; title needs some ‘splaining, Luci Reply

Review by Terry Gaisin

Nope, the ‘good’ is not a Stephen Harper descriptive article- for clarity the title would be more meaningful if written “…for our Country’s good (or benefit!)”.  Wertenbaker’s play based on the Thomas Keneally (Schindler’s List) novel retells an incident in the early days of the down under British development as a penal colony to be peopled by England’s undesirables. As a premature psychological experiment, the gaolers permit the inmates to learn; then perform, a contemporary comedic play. Thus, a play within a play and Theatre Erindale has scored a triumph with both.

Director Patrick Young presents the story as connected scene vignettes that look at the experience from three different aspects…George IV’s Royal marines; the harshly treated draconically sentenced criminals; and the aboriginal community. Most of the cast perform in two or more of these diverse categories; and perform they do – superlatively. Photo courtesy of Jim Smagata; Erindale

Young‘s ingeniously creative staging utilizes oversized rigid backdrops as screens; tents; sky/ and mists, that instantly convert locals or situations. His artistic eye enables the audience to feel the mood, even the ambiance of the different lives each of the protagonists faced as pioneers in the hostile environment that was late 18th & early 19th century Australia and New South Wales. The story retells about an actual incident that occurred in 1789 at the penal camp in Sydney Cove. The utilization of PowerPoint™ segment titling assists the audience in following the rapid progress of the performance, as well as preparing us for the section to follow.

Captain Tench; Black Caesar and a composite Aborigine are all Julio Ospina and he is a powerhouse in all three personas. To be so credible in such diverse guises is a credit to UTM’s training. Four other such thespian talents are in multi-role challenges are Jonathan Walls (Governor/Inmate) and Heather Dennis (Lt. Faddy/ tough whore) who are credible portrayers in each personage. Major Ross & James Freeman are both Brandon Gillespie whose physical stature even appears to change with his portrayals. Michael Esposito II epitomizes both of his characters and still manages to be credible hang-ees. To be able to put ones’ self so realistically into such non-complementary roles boggles this writer.

The pivotal roles of ‘Mary’ & ‘Duckling’ are played by Alison Blair & Brittany Kay with empathy and innate understanding of their subject’s psyches and emotional baggage. The fortitude exhibited by Jessica Allen as ‘Liz Morden’ epitomizes the moral of this play & the writer’s intention.

There are still more performers whose work contributes to the success of ‘GOOD’. Lighting and costumes are intrinsic endorsers of the overall success of this unusually challenging undertaking. I live with a Capital Punishment advocate (almost non-existent recidivism rate), but even he will probably change opinion after having seen this performance! Just one more rationale to visit ERINDALE before February 19th

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