A leading London critic describes it as “highly theatrical, often funny and at times dark and disturbing, it sets an infant civilization on the stage with clarity, economy and insight [as] it relates the true story of the first theatrical performance in Australia.”
In June 1789 in the penal colony that was later to become the city of Sydney, a marine lieutenant decides to put on a play to celebrate the king’s birthday. He casts the play with the English convicts who populate this distant Australian prison camp. Few of them can read, let alone act, and the play is being produced against a background of food shortages and barbaric punishments–brilliantly juxtaposed against the civilizing influence of theatrical endeavor. The “hangman,” himself a convict, has been recruited along with a woman, wrongfully accused of stealing. Even as the play is being rehearsed, he measures her for a noose.
Despite powerful and disturbing scenes,such as this, a London critic suggests “It’s far from grim. Actually it’s mostly funny!” “All people tend to become what society says they are! In performance the convicts challenge their definition.” (The Times, London) The Guardian critic writes “Our Country’s Good is a triumph…a tribute to the transforming power of drama…It is heartening to find someone standing up for theatre’s unique spititual power.” The Telegraph critic sums up, “In the shared delight of her convict cast in the production of the play, [Wertenbaker] suggests, that turns a prison camp into a country.”