Our Country’s Good
by Timberlake Wertenbaker
"Excellent cast...the audience would have needed a heart of stone not to be moved..."
About the play
Our Country’s Good was commissioned by Max Stafford-Clark for the Royal Court in 1988. The play was written by Timberlake Wertenbaker following two months of workshops where historical research into characters and intense improvisations provided much of the stimulus material. The play has become a classic and is one of the most performed plays ever commissioned by Stafford-Clark. It is a set text at A level and a popular choice for theatre studies students looking to perform adaptations of existing plays.
In essence the play is based on Thomas Keneally’s novel, The Playmaker which chronicles the first ever theatrical production to take place in Australia. This was a performance of Farqhuar’s The Recruiting Officer which took place in 1789 with some of the convicts as the actors. This fascinating historical event, chronicled in various forms including the personal diaries of Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark who directed the play, is used to examine the humanising power of theatre.
A year earlier, on the 18th of January, 1788 the first fleet of British prison ships, under the command of Arthur Phillip, had arrived at Botany Bay in what is now New South Wales and settled up the coast at Port Jackson, the site of current-day Sydney. Many of the prisoners had been convicted of minor theft and many of their guards were military men who fought and lost the war against the American colonies. There is a sense that they were all condemned to exile in a land where farming was difficult, the heat unbearable, food in desperately short supply and the tensions between prisoner and gaoler stretched to breaking point.
At a time of extremely low supplies and low hopes, with the future of the colony in question, Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark suggests staging a production of George Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer using convicts, many of them illiterate, as his cast. His intention is not only to raise morale but also make a favourable impression upon his superiors and secure a promotion. The project immediately takes on political dimensions and meets with opposition among the other officers. As his opening night nears Clark struggles to ready the play amidst a storm of questions about the possibility of redemption and the transforming powers of theatre.
Our Country’s Good opened on 6th September 1988 at The Royal Court and quickly received a universally positive response. It is a perfect blend of historical narrative, three dimensional characters and strong theatrical structure.