Bridewell Theatre – until 27 October
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
It’s easy to forget that Sedos are an amateur company – their production values and talented casts are always of such a high standard. Sedos’s production of Our Country’s Good, 30 years on from it’s Royal Court premiere, is another stunning success. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, inspired by real events, tells the story of convicts and officers in 18th century Sydney.
Captain Arthur Phillip (Simon Hill) who views see transportation of the prisoners as punishment, and their time in Australia as a chance for rehabilitation and redemption suggests that the convicts put on a play. Naïve young officer Ralph Clarke (Sam Pearce) sees this as a chance of promotion and seta about rehearsing The Recruiting Officer with his ragtag cast. Attempted escapes, hangings and interference by Major Ross (John Irvine) who believes that the prisoners should be punished and suffer constantly during their imprisonment all hamper the rehearsal process.
Brian Tucker’s set is simple but stylish, evoking the deck of the transport ship and the convicts’ makeshift atsge. Beautifully lit by Adam Coppard, the sense of place is effortless. Director Chloë Robertson keeps the cast doubling of roles, with swift costume changes on stage during scene changes, accompanied by Ricky Damiani’s gorgeous music.
Wertenbaker’s musings on crime and punishment, the judicial system and class – both in Georgian England and within the convict camp – are as hard-hitting as ever, with the theme of theatre’s ability to be a humanising force always present but explicitly voiced by the tortured and despondent John Arscott (Theo Bhat) as he talks about being able to forget his life and not hating anyone when he’s speaking Kite’s lines. There is lots of meta-theatrical fun to be had with the prisoners’ complaints and questions about acting and the audience, and the cast excel in these scenes. Yes, some scenes are full of exposition and philosophical debate, but Roberts keeps the pace from flagging and the cast’s performances don’t dip at all.
There are some particularly strong performances, with Sam Pearce growing into his role as Clarke and bouncing off the other actors with sweetly awkward chemistry. Josh Yard has lots of fun as pickpocket Sideway – out-Garricking Garrick with his huge gestures and plummy tones. Jessica Withey is wonderful as Liz Morden – brimming with anger at the world, but finally seeing hope through rehearsing the play and being treated as a human being by Clarke. The confusion on her face as she is treated with decency is heart-breaking. The growing camaraderie of the acting troupe as they open up to each other and talk of their futures is believable and emotional, and the final scene is full of hope and humanity, even if it only lasts for the convicts until their curtain falls.
Sedos’s Our Country’s Good is an excellent, atmospheric production full of wonderful performances – grab a ticket while you can.