More concerned with individual power than colonial power, Our Country’s Good is nevertheless a solid choice for the Tron‘s second Mayfesto production, telling the story of a group of convicts in an Australian penal colony who – in warily coming together to work on producing a play – rediscover a little of their humanity.
At its best, Timberlake Wertenbaker‘s classic has an almost revolutionary edge when performed, as the crowd of manacled convicts the audience meet in the first act, slough away their rough edges under the civilising influence of George Farquhar‘s The Recruiting Officer. The Tron‘s latest production doesn’t quite manage to harness this magic but snappy direction from Communicado‘s Gerry Mulgrew creates a show that rattles along with entertaining vigour and showcases a handful of stand-out performances from its cast of Royal Conservatoire postgraduates.
Leading these, David Kirkwood is immensely watchable as Ralph Clark, the edgy and worn-out lieutenant who, after two years marshalling the colony, is almost in as sore a need of the civilising influence of theatre as the convicts themselves. Opposite him, Isobel McArthur as convicted thief (and object of Ralph’s affections) Mary Brenham is a warm, compelling presence in the quieter scenes but at other times seems overpowered on-stage and the audience never have the chance to connect with her like they should.
In her portrayal of the rabble-rousing Liz Morden, Jess Thigpen is great fun but too often falls back on cockney swagger in place of real anger. Unfortunately, this flatness is often duplicated across the supporting cast. Occasional violent scrabbles illustrate how uncouth the convicts are but there’s little hint of the raw emotion underneath that should make their transformation so compelling.
Again, the production’s minimalist set (also used for The Tempest) proves itself extraordinarily versatile and effective, while Ross Brown’s ambient yet atmospheric sound design underscores the whole thing beautifully. There is nothing particularly bold or exciting here, and The Tempest is by far the stronger of the Tron‘s two Mayfesto offerings; but Our Country’s Good is nonetheless a solid and enjoyable production of a play that never fails to feel relevant.