Our Country's Good

Thu 27th – Sat 29th November 2014

reviews

Nathaniel Zacharias

at 02:01 on 28th Nov 2014

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Exceptional and beautiful. Fourth Wall Theatre’s production of the 1989 play Our Country’s Good is a brilliant piece of theatre that serves to remind us to hope in humanity, create meaning where the land is barren, and seek goodness among the lost causes.

This would have been a challenging play to pull off in its own right since it was written with the intention of double-acting in mind, and yet a terrific job was done of it. In the absence of a production set, the raw talent of the cast had to be relied on to draw the audience into the world that was theirs. This was complemented with great effect by the varied use of mere crates as stage props and the tastefully minimal but highly effective lighting against a multi-purpose screen.

Although most of the play was outstanding, the first few scenes were bleak in their delivery. The prologue, the scene on the ship, the hunting scene, and the scene in which Ralph Clark writes his journal all seem to have rationed their stores of potential in the way their streams of consciousness were expressed. It could also be seen that the cast were self-conscious of their movements and their acting during the exposition, as if they were retreating into their magnificently well-sourced costumes.

However, the performance quickly warmed up with the entrance of Dabby Bryant (Lydia Feerick) and Mary Brenham (Serena Gosling) who were the first to truly fill the space and be the catalysts for the rest of the cast to unravel the story in an enthralling way. Both Lydia and Serena kept a consistent level of charm and endearment in each of their main characters.

Highly excellent performances of more than one character were done by Luke McCormack and Sorrel Brown. Luke’s cadence in speech for Captain Phillip and John Wisehammer were the defining trait that differentiated the two characters and lent themselves well to Phillip’s lengthy lines about no one being born cultured and Wisehammer’s recitation of his prologue. Sorrel’s portrayal of the rough and tough Liz Morden and the care for naught Lieutenant Dawes kept true to the dynamics of the other characters on stage during her scenes. Sorrel’s role as Liz Morden was depicted with a perfect balance between brutish insecurity, square honesty, and sensitive openness to opportunity.

Duckling’s range of emotions were as wide as her legs were known to go but were nevertheless well met by Annie Davison’s wide acting ability which accurately portrayed frustration, seduction, anger, anguish, restlessness and nostalgia - often with a few transitions within the same scene.

The most emotionally complex characters to portray were, by a ship’s or noose’s length, those of Lieutenant Clark, Midshipman Harry, and Ketch Freeman. These were played by Sasoon Moskofian, Tristan Robinson, and Adam Evans each to greater and lesser extents throughout the duration of the play. Themes of duty, guilt and fortune were extremely difficult to illustrate together with assertiveness, honour, and sincerity in each character.

The endearing efforts of Captain Phillip were met in equal measure by the lightheartedness of the play’s humour. Shaheen Ahmed-Chowdhury, Tristan Robinson and Lydia Feerick are to be commended for effectively interpreting in their own way the characters of Black Caesar, Robert Sideway and Dabby Bryant respectively. There was a certain individual flair that these three brought onto stage that made up the performance’s overall comedy value.

In the final analysis, the cast were a strong and tight knit bunch who complemented and supported each other’s roles amazingly. As the play progressed, they became more and more organic in their performance. The lighting, staging, technical directorship and overall directorship did the play justice to keep the focus on the larger human story happening in the background. It was a joy to watch such dynamics at play on stage where aspirations and hopes stepped into and out of the mix. The final scene genuinely leaves the audience in hope for a better future for the characters.

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Connie Bettison

at 02:21 on 28th Nov 2014

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Fourth Wall Theatre Company's debut play, set in a prison colony in 1790s Australia, proves them to be powerfully competent through truly impressive acting and overall compelling stage-craft.

Set in one of the first colonies of Australia, Our Country's Good sees one impassioned officer work to produce a play with thieves, prostitutes and murderers as the stars. In the process the convicts find escapism and solidarity working together, sheltered briefly from the tribulations they face in their world of hunger, punishment and fear.

A commendable choice of play sets up Fourth Wall for success: two and a half hours full of colour and emotion. Our Country's Good consciously and deliberately celebrates theatre, making it an astute and exciting launch to this new Durham student organisation. Any occasional slip-ups are immediately forgotten in this highly convincing ensemble performance.

What cannot be understated is the sheer quality of the acting. Each and every performer impresses, both individually and as part of the cast as a whole. The performances throughout are particularly involving in dialogue, with the one big exception of Tristan Robinson's speech in the second act, which truly encapsulates the mix of aggression and terror the play is built upon. Robinson's performances were especially successful; performances here is the key-word, nine of the twelve actors play multiple roles. This doubling creates a wonderful sense of equality between the unequal since officers and convicts appear with the same faces. The casting decision to change some of the doublings from Max Stafford-Clark's original production generally works to the play's advantage. One slight disappointment is that Shaheen Ahmed-Chowdhury's 'Black Caesar' isn't doubled, which would complete the picture of equality between race alongside the established doublings between genders, officers and convicts, indigenous and colonist. The doubling roles give these actors opportunity to display their range of talents: Luke McCormack impresses in his equally convincing confident Captain Phillip and timid convict John Wisehammer. Robinson succeeds most outstandingly in this set-up; the distinction between his two characters is incredibly strong. There are times when it is easy not to realise that Robert Sideway, the over-dramatic budding thespian and the deeply troubled Harry Brewer are played by the same person.

The classical minimalist staging technique of using numerous cargo-boxes to create the set worked well. Notably the boxes helped to create uncomfortable proximity between Harry Brewer (Robinson) and Duckling (Annie Davison) in the boat scene, emphasising Duckling's imprisonment. It is slightly regrettable that music is rarely played and mostly just for masking scene changes. Its potential value is proven in the hangman scene which works to create an effecting atmosphere of anticipation. The play's lighting is most impressive when recreating the journey to Australia – moving shadows in the darkness build the ambiance of fear and ambiguity.

Special mentions are due to Lydia Feerick for her effortless humour as Dabby Bryant inciting many outbursts of laughter from the audience, and to Sorrel Brown for her moving performance in the challenging and pivotal role of Liz Morden. Further congratulations go to 'costumer' Alissa Cooper: the sharp bright colours of the officers' uniforms compared to the darker, faded shades subtly contrast the groups, and neatly address the issue of telling apart characters played by the same actors.

Finally, to respond to Leying Lee's Director's Note, we laughed, we were moved, and the audience has plenty to think about. I for one am avidly anticipating what Fourth Wall will come up with next. Before then, I whole-heartedly recommend this production.

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