Our Country's Good

Published: 12 Apr 2012 09:300 comments

Australia, 1778. A shipment of convicts - transported far away for their country's good - and the soldiers sent along to guard them, land on the shore of an almost wholly unexplored and vast country - a penal colony where the British can keep their criminals out of sight and out of mind.

As the soldiers battle inhospitable conditions and struggle to keep order among their lawless charges, a benevolent governor seizes upon the idea of staging a play. Rehearsals begin for The Recruiting Officer, a play within the play, about the life-affirming power of theatre, that is coming to Bracknell's South Hill Park this month: Our Country's Good.

"The play won an Olivier Award before and I was familiar with it but I'd never seen it," explained Aden Gillett, who plays the governor, First General of Australia, Captain Arthur Phillips, as his key character among the multiple roles each cast-member takes on throughout the play.

Written by British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, the play traverses multiple themes of love, death, comedy, incarceration and colonisation, although, as Aden explained, it is also "a straight-out crowd pleaser".

"I was not sure how it would be received," he said. "But it gets a very strong audience reaction, it really does. In Kingston people cheered at the end! It's really quite a good story, just watching them struggling on with the play and then succeeding, it's very life-enhancing."

Aden has researched widely for his role as Caption Phillips. He said: "I have read a couple of books about the period and I'm currently reading The Fatal Shore, a giant book about that time. The play's actually got a lot of Wertenbaker's ideas running through it rather than the true story; a playwright might think that certain things are more interesting dramatically, so the character is based on what is in the play rather than true life."

He also revealed a surprising source for his characterisation: "Arthur Phillips was more based on Mike Jackson, the commander of the British forces in the invasion of Iraq."

Aden added that, like Captain Phillips, he also believes that art could be life-changing: "I think art is vital for a richer life, which is a bit of pompous thing to say, isn't it?"

Our Country's Good is at South Hill Park, Bracknell, on Monday and Tueday, April 23-24. Tickets cost £13-£15 from www.southhillpark.org.uk or call 01344 484123 to book.

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