America, England and Australia collide, overlap and intertwine in Centre’s newest drama production, Our Country’s Good. The British play is set in Australia and performed by both American Centre students and British students from Centre’s exchange school, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
Originally written in 1988 by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker as an adaptation of the Thomas Keanally novel The Playmaker, the play features Royal Marines and convicts in New South Wales (modern day Australia) at the end of the 18th century. The plot centers on the Marines and convicts’ preparations for a production of The Recruiting Officer, a stock comedy about two British officers, one a womanizer and the other a coward.
The play presents a number of challenges to its actors.
“We are working in a very Brechtian style of theatre,” says Martha Grace Burkey ’14, who plays Elizabeth Morden and Reverend Johnson in the production. “We are making it very clear to the audience that this is a play and there is a story being told, which can be challenging.
“I’m more used to pieces where character shifts happen offstage and there is a certain mystery to special effects and so on,” she continues. “It’s been a challenge to actively work towards a light-footed, open storytelling style.”
The play’s seemingly lighthearted plot belies a much more meaningful message.
“The text of the play is such a rich exploration of humanity and redemption,” Burkey explains. “I’ve loved seeing that come to life in rehearsals.”
Specifically, the play highlights the influential role of theater in society, even one as far-flung and remote as the 1780’s Australian penal colony where the story takes place.
“This play is a particularly important piece for people who would not otherwise go to see live theatre,” Burkey says. “One of the major conflicts in the play is arguing for the importance of theatre in communities.”
Because the play is set in a British penal colony, authentic accents are key—luckily for the already talented Centre actors, several of their co-stars happen to be drama students from Centre’s exchange school, Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance.
“The Bruford students have been a huge help with our English accent work,” Burkey says. “Just being around them keeps the cadence of language in our heads. They also bring some cool connections to the piece itself.
“In a lot of ways, we’re working within the history of their country,” she adds, “and I think having them in the room has made that history more real. There is quite a bit of nostalgia for England in the play because the characters are all, to some extent, British exiles.”
To complete the Rose Bruford connection, a production of Our Country’s Good is also being performed at Rose Bruford in London, where a similar mixture of American and British drama students will create their own unique fusion of cultures and acting styles.
As for the Centre production, Burkey hopes that the blend of American and British actors can bring to life an empowering message.
“I hope the audience leaves with the reminder that injustice is an actual problem in our society today, but we have hope because there are real, concrete ways to transcend even the most hopeless situations.”
Our Country’s Good runs November 14th and 15th at 8 p.m. and November 16th at 5 p.m.
Andrew Stairs ’14: Robert Sideway/Arthur Phillip
Thomas Maryon: Ketch Freeman/Robbie Ross
Joshua Jerome: Black Caesar/Aboriginal/Captain Watkin Tench
Olivia Palmer ’14: Mary Brenham
Emma Godwin: Dabby Bryant /Lt. Dawes
Martha Grace Burkey ’14: Liz Morden/Reverend Johnson
Ellen Matthews ’17: Duckling/Lt. Johnston
Steven Maddox ’15: Lt. Ralph Clark
Chris Lockhart: Midshipman Harry Brewer/Meg Long
Seth Gray ’16: Captain Campbell
Zach Throne ’16: Captain Davey Collins/John Arscott
Bryce Rowland ’17: John Wisehammer/Lt. Faddy
Director: Patrick Kagan-Moore
Assistant Director: Evan Simmonds
Dramaturgs: Robyn Carroll ’14 & Mariele Fluegeman ’15
Stage Manager: Hallie Forbess ’14
Costume Designer: Martha Peñaranda
Make Up Designer: Chelsea Faist ’14
Lighting Designer: Drew Maciula
Props Designer: Sarah Welch ’14
Scenic Designer: Matthew Hallock
Sound Designer: Hallie Boyd ’14
Composer: Jimmy Hawkins ’14
Learn more about the drama program at Centre.
By Mariel Smith