Set in 1789, under the roasting hot sun of the first British colony to arrive in Botany Bay, Our Country’s Good is an entertaining take on the British prison system and the colonial ambition of sending our criminals, from the most feared to the most petty, to the undiscovered wilderness of Australia.
As the convicts arrive in chains to a land with unforgiving snakes, spiders, and torturous heat, Lieutenant Clarke, the most cultured of the hierarchy, decides to create his own theatre production of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, using convicts as cast. As the British naval captains circle around him, they grow fearful of what freedoms acting may give their oppressed convicts, and try their best to put an end to it.
The next few hours prove to be entertaining, with the actors portraying caricaturesque versions of stuffy British elites, and downtrodden English, Irish, and Scottish criminals.
For an amateur dramatic production, the stage is set with a grand central mast and sails, a reminder of the eight month journey from the British mainland by sea. As the audience arrive, the captive cast begin wailing and screaming, a haunting depiction of their long, hard, and cold journey. But the icy wash of circumnavigated ocean is not lost on the audience – the Bedlam Theatre is freezing.
Perhaps the major negative of the night is the difficulty to enjoy the performance due to the bitingly cold air inside the theatre. Bedlam is an old church, but sitting for nearly two and a half hours in a fridge is unforgivable for a venue.
However, this should not detract from the efforts made by the cast and the directors. It is plain to see that even the actors, who remain on the wings of the stage still in character when not performing, are becoming increasingly cold. Yet not one lets that affect their performance.
As they puff their breath out into the icy theatre, many of the actors manage to play dual roles. A special notice goes to Domi Ucar for her portrayal of both Reverend Johnson and the convict “Sideway”, to Amelia Watson, who was cast as the strict, Scottish, male officer, Captain Ross; and to Hannah Robinson for her comical portrayal of “Dabby”.
At only £5 per ticket, Our Country’s Good is well worth it and there are actors in the cast who it would be good to see performing on bigger stages in the city. But as for Bedlam Theatre, it’s easy to forgive a venue that does so much for grassroots theatre in Scotland, but seriously, fix the heating.