Tim Shortall's set looks as if it's made from the used timber and sails of the ship that just transported prisoners and soldiers alike halfway across the world, where the surprisingly liberal First Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip (John Hollingworth) goes against the firmly-held beliefs of many of his officers that the criminals are born evil, and instead insists that the new colony can be a place for redemption. But many of the old guard try to sabotage the play that's symbolic of Phillip's approach; to the point that one of its stars, Liz Morden (Kathryn O'Reilly) sees herself threatened with the noose on trumped-up charges.
The inclusion of an Aboriginal Australian who occasionally comments on the action from his own perspective feels like a necessary angle to take, but I never feel like Wertenbaker completely commits to the concept so it's another element of the play that doesn't quite work for me (and I'm not sure why Damola Adelaja gives him an African accent.) But there's only a couple of these small elements that don't quite hang together in a play widely considered a modern classic. Although Our Country's Good feels fiercely political, not to mention topical with its themes of people on the bottom rung of society being dismissed by those with power, and of the capacity of art to improve the world, it also entertains and is beautifully acted here.
Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally, is booking until the 23rd of March at the St James Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.