Our Country's Good

CHRISTOPHER SMITH “Theatre is an expression of civilisation.” So says one of the characters in Timberlake Wertenbaker's drama, as she shows the strength of that opinion by scratching at our consciousness and by exploiting the old-but-powerful device of the play within a play.

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

“Theatre is an expression of civilisation.” So says one of the characters in Timberlake Wertenbaker's drama, as she shows the strength of that opinion by scratching at our consciousness and by exploiting the old-but-powerful device of the play within a play.

A penal colony in 18th century Australia is a cockpit of passions, hardly less for the jailers than for the prisoners. Putting on a performance of a comedy might be a way of diffusing the situation or else bringing it to the flashpoint. We are kept waiting to see which way things will go.

Souls are laid bare in rehearsals, a trial seen is a real crisis and hidden depths gape like black holes in this tiny cosmos. The atmosphere is tense, the language powerful, and laughs punctuate the tragedy. Doubling the roles as an expression of ambiguities that come pressing in on every side.

Though the set design forces George Norton into putting nearly all the action on the front quarter of the stage, his production is always lively. It is carried forward by a dozen vivid characterisations. Tim Seely in particular distinguishes himself in the twin roles of the Governor with faith in humanity and of the pickpocket who reinterprets Garrick with a breath-taking display of over exuberant theatricality. That the rest of the actors can keep up with him is a real tribute to their various strengths.

t Our Country's Good continues at the Maddermarket Theatre in Norwich until May 3. Box office: 01603 620917.

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