The Country’s Alright

  • Screenshot courtesy Dawson College

Historical fiction, whether in the form of literature, film or theatre, is a criminally underrated genre. Taking place in a different time frame, people, especially young adults, have a hard time relating and do not always understand the important themes that are brought forth.

The graduating class of the Dawson College Professional Theatre program went back in time themselves starting Jan. 25 with the debut of Our Country’s Good, a 1988 award-winning play by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Set in 1780s Australia, the play outlines the lives of a group of newly arrived English convicts, their struggle to find meaning in lives of captivity, and the efforts of an English general to put on a play in an effort to breathe life back into convicts and officers alike.

Barb Kelly, the director, explained that the variety of characters was one of the reasons she was drawn to the play.

“The characters are from England, Ireland and Scotland, so there’s good dialect work for the actors,” Kelly said.

One of the challenges of the production was the scene changes. “It’s a very different style of play, almost film-like,” Kelly explained.

“My first impressions were that this was going to be a lot of work,” said Kayla Henry, one of the actors in the play. “There are many scenes and it focuses on so many different issue and the characters are very complex.”

Fellow actor Anthony Wilson added that, because the convicts are actors themselves in a play, it was important “to differentiate your acting from your character’s acting.”

The actors were able to find themselves relating to the their characters. Henry, who plays Mary Brenham, says that she related to Mary’s improvement in the world of theatre. “She’s very shy and pulled back, but when she finds her way through the theatre, she finds more confidence,” she said.

Wilson related to his character, convict escapee John Arscott, who is himself acting. “He uses his character as a means of escape and he enjoys not being himself.”

But could a modern audience relate?

“There is not much hope for the convicts in terms of finding a better life, but it offers hope that they’re in a new land and what it means for them after they serve their sentences,” Kelly said, describing the themes of hope and despair as prevalent throughout.

Wilson brought up a specific incident where a Major defends one of his drunken soldiers in the play. “It’s like police brutality and the protection of the officers,” he said. “It shows how the officers are really above the convicts.”

“The lower class are swept under the rug and not seen as human,” Henry added. “We are pretty much putting the entire colony together and [we’re] treated like garbage.”

Our Country’s Good // Dawson’s Theatre (2000 Atwater St.) // Feb. 3 to 6 at 8 p.m. // $15 regular, $10 students and seniors

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