A dark comedy with an eye on social justice and redemption, Sally Smythe of South Pasadena Theatre Workshop directs “Our Country’s Good”. A multiple award-winning theatrical event written by British playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, tells the true story of Australia’s first theatrical performance set in a penal colony circa 1790. It discusses themes of sexuality, punishment, and the judicial system as well as celebrates the transformative power of theatre.
In the 1780’s, a fleet of convicts and Royal Marines from England, led by Captain Arthur Phillip was sent to Australia to construct a penal colony as the over populated prisons had run out of room. It was one of the first times white colonials had set foot in the Lost Continent as it was termed by navigators, settling in New South Wales which later becomes Sydney Harbor. We witness the prophetic reaction of the Aboriginal as he sees the ships approach and thus begins the invasion and disruption to a way of life thousands of years old. His presence continues throughout for he is a both a man and a mystical wiranun spirit, an essential witness.
The strongest and most able convicts were chosen for the experiment as the nine months at sea were brutal. Phillip demanded the government supply the ships with greens and fresh meat to ensure the survival rate and went on to challenge the excessive floggings as well as the practice of hanging for stealing so much as a biscuit. The convicts were expected to work to construct the new colony, however, all were now on strict rations and the land was proving difficult to farm. In this life of exile and suffering, Phillip comes to believe that the Convicts would benefit and even find redemption by an exposure to culture. He is scorned by his officers but a 2nd Lieutenant, Clark Ralph, eager for promotion volunteers to direct The Recruiting Officer, a Restoration comedy and rehearsals begin.
Against this backdrop of food shortages and barbaric prison punishments as well as growing strife within the officer’s camp, there is a tremendous strain on all. One officer is tortured by visions of the people he feels responsible for hanging, another is driven to desperate measures by his need for the old order to be upheld and goes to desperate measures to punish the disorder the play is causing. Meanwhile, the convicts are inspired to emerge into the world of restoration comedy even while the actors are sometimes reduced to rehearsal in chains and endure floggings. But lives are changed by the experience and Ralph, a member of the upper class who formally viewed prisoners as irredeemable, is transformed and redeemed by love.
“Our team of inspired designers and twelve exceptional actors who play 24 parts invite you come see this extraordinary play”, says Smythe. “There is rich theatricality and novelty for theatergoers as they watch the actors transform themselves from Officer to Convict and back again. We are thrilled to be doing a live theatrical production after years of Covid restrictions and to come together to tell this particular story which speaks for our time in many ways.”
Performances take place at South Pasadena Theatre Workshop from May 25 through June 26. Thursdays and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm. Special performance June 8th at 8pm. SPTW is located at 1507 El Centro St, South Pasadena, CA 91030. Tickets currently priced $25 – $35 and are available online or at the door, paid with cash or check (made payable to South Pasadena Theatre Workshop). Look for Pay What You Will performances coming soon!
Masks and proof of vaccination required for entry.
The play contains mature language and themes authentic to the time period in which the play takes place. Not recommended for children under the age of 13.