Our Country's Good - Sapphire Joy as Mary Credit Catherine Ashmore
This play, written by American-born Timberlake Wertenbaker in 1988, is based on the story of convicts and British military officers creating Australia’s first penal settlement, in 1780.
It is a dissection of class, law-and-order, and the difference between creating a just society and sustaining justice within a society.
It also looks at whether art can be the glue that binds the individual into a coherent, cooperative, and civilized – group.
When notions of nationality and cultural allegiance are once again being questioned and tested – primarily by media, political and economic elites with various ‘societal grinds to axe’ - this is a play that feels increasingly relevant.
Having seen another iteration in 2012, I was interested to see this version of a play often described as a ‘modern classic’.
This version was presented by ‘Ramps on the moon’, a company that boasts a ’50 per cent D/deaf and disabled’ cast, and where every performance is accessible – through signing, on-stage script, and audio-description - to each and every member of the audience - how appropriate.
Wertenbaker’s witty play cleverly postulates that we will survive – not just based on a mad desire to love and be loved – but by creating stories beyond our physical reality
The production’s lighting, sound and staging were excellent, as was Fiona Buffini’s direction, the depiction of the initial voyage – at the start of the play – was a cross between Gēricault’s ‘Raft of the medusa’, and Dante’s Inferno; both women and men alike abusing, being abused, using, and being used, in a mad scramble for survival…or to feel alive.
Once we get onto dry land, a harsh set of rules and laws are created and imposed by the navy-led hierarchy. These invariably involve floggings, hangings, and solitary confinement but – we are told – are absolutely necessary in order to uphold the sanctity of civilisation.
It’s an interesting premise and a question that has been pondered much, over the last century: ‘What would it look like if the world had to start anew?’
Our Country's Good - (L-R) Tom Dawze (John Wisehammer), Will Lewis (John Arscott), Gbemisola Ikumelo (Liz Morden), Keiren Hamilton-Amos (Caesar) and Tim Pritchett (Ralph Clark) Credit Catherine Ashmore
The answer, as this play suggests, is in the past.
We will almost certainly fall back on age-old prejudices, class-based assumptions about human worth, and cruel (and visible) punishments will be used as deterrents for deviant behavior.
Wertenbaker’s witty play cleverly postulates that we will survive – not just based on a mad desire to love and be loved – but by creating stories beyond our physical reality… in this case, not through religion, but through theatre.
So... theatre as church…
Also, while most of the actors were comprehensible, I found myself - on a few occasions - having to refer to the rolling on-screen script.
Then again... I suppose, that’s what it’s there for.
Our Country's Good -(L-R) Fergus Rattigan (Ketch), Fifi Garfield (Dabby), Sapphire Joy (Mary), Alex Nowak (Sideway), Tim Pritchett (Ralph Clark), Emily Rose salter (Duckli) Credit Catherine Ashmore
Of course, it is admirable that those lovers of theatre who are hearing-impaired continue to have greater access to more (and better) plays. For this, ‘Ramps…’ deserve plaudits…and, no doubt, more funding.
Perhaps such a play is the perfect medium for showcasing ‘Ramps…’, and highlighting the possibilities of all-inclusive theatre.
Or maybe we should all just pay attention more…
Perhaps the answer is that ‘signing’ be made part of the general school curriculum, in the same way as other ‘foreign languages’ are (not).
While this wouldn’t necessarily level the playing field, it would certainly help educate the general populace.
Until that time, it is clear that ‘Ramps on the Moon’ are doing an important job – even if I, personally, didn’t enjoy this version as much as last time around.
Info: Our Country’s Good is at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 5 May 2018 | book tickets