Theatre UNB is set perform one of the most popular and acclaimed plays of the last twenty-five years. Our Country’s Good will come to life this week at Memorial Hall, as one of the many events associated with this year’s Frostival celebrations happening throughout the city.
Adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, Our Country’s Good draws on the early history of British settlements in Australia, and in particular, the actual events that led to the staging of the first play to be performed in the country. Set in 1788, the play recounts the story of humanitarian governor Arthur Phillip as he encourages the staging of a play by convicts as a means of enlightening and rehabilitating the colony’s prisoners.
“I’ve had Our Country’s Good on my list of plays I wanted do for some time now,” said Len Falkenstein, Director of Drama at the University of New Brunswick. “It was just a matter of finding the right opportunity with the right group of students. I think I first read it as a graduate student. I’ve taught the play and have seen a couple of other productions of it, one in Fredericton at STU some time ago and one in London more recently, but I haven’t previously directed it myself.”
In many ways, the play is the perfect fit for drama students and advocates of theatre. The characters in the play learn the how to bring a story to life and experience first-hand, the important role of storytelling within their own community.
“It’s a great play to do with students because it is a great work for learning character creation,” said Falkenstein. “The cast is doubled, and in some cases tripled. It’s about a company of people putting on a play, in a way because their lives depend on it. With so many of the students who are truly passionate about theatre, that is exactly how they feel about things.”
Theatre UNB’s production will transport audiences to late 18th century Australia with authentic period costumes and rich visuals and sound created by a team of some of Fredericton’s finest designers, including projection and set design by UNB’s Mike Johnston, lighting by the Playhouse’s Jeff Fevens, and an original score by Theatre New Brunswick’s resident sound designer and composer, Mike Doherty.
Falkenstein strongly believes in the play’s relevance both as a piece of history and an important social commentary, and has been waiting for the right opportunity to produce the work on the UNB stage for some time.
“For me personally, the play has a mix of many things I find appealing,” said Falkenstein. “It tells a fascinating true story from history, it has a sharp edge of political and social commentary in its critical examination of such things as the ideology behind colonialism and the brutal class and gender divisions in 18th century society, and it contains a mixture of profound and poignant drama and emotion alongside a lot of great comedy and comic moments. The characters are vivid and well-drawn, and the whole play is a kind of love letter to the theatre, a work that makes a case for the vital importance of theatre, and art in general, as something that can’t help but enrich our lives–and of course that’s going to appeal to someone whose life work is putting on plays.”