I am the lowest of the low. It’s pitch dark, but the night is alive with horrible noise. I’ve been on a convict ship for eight months, caged like an animal, fed little enough to survive —or sometimes not at all — left in my own filth and that of the 20 others packed into the same cell. The heat and stench is unbearable but it is the noise that is scraping away at my sanity. It comes from every direction; from below, the screams of terror of a young girl prisoner being assaulted by at least three guards; above, a 2nd Lieutenant calls out “57” and I hear the thick, wet smack of the whip mixed with the bloodcurdling keening of a convict being lashed 150 times for daring to look an officer in the eye; in the next cell, a boy is offering to sell his body for an extra pound of beef a week; and from everywhere there is the constant moaning —of the ship, the sea, the sick, and from my own throat. The horrible, horrible noise.
I am the highest of the high. I’m in the blinding sun, taking in the coastal breeze on the shores of Sydney Cove, enjoying an afternoon bird hunt while discussing the finer points of 18th century moral philosophy with my subordinates. We are bathed, well fed, and clothed in the finest military regalia. I look out on this unspoiled paradise, bizarre and delightful in its untamed glory, and see nothing but potential. I am the most powerful man in this world, able to silence scores of men with the lift of a finger or twitch of an eyebrow. Secure in my purpose, I am in command of the most ambitious mass colonization of a foreign land in recorded history.
That’s the first three minutes of the show. Exciting, yes?
I can say without a hint of reservation that in my time as an actor, I have never encountered a play like Our Country’s Good. Academically, it is a study in juxtaposition; a point my colleague and friend Colin Wood touched on a few weeks ago. From a performance standpoint it is by turns demanding, exhausting, restorative, and beautiful – it is in a word, transformative.
I mean we, the cast, literally have to transform. In very, very short spaces of time, sometimes in the same scene, sometimes in less than a minute, any one of us must fully express the sorrow and rage of the disenfranchised, then walk off stage and shed that state of being, put on a coat, turn right back around and fully express the gentility and ease of the empowered.
Creating and maintaining that kind of internal duality, keeping two or three fully formed people in your body and calling them up instantly —being able to turn on a dime — is very difficult. It’s also super rewarding as a performer when you pull it off, or when you get to watch your fellow artists, your friends and compatriots, nail it. It is hard work, but the kind of work that reminds me of why I stay in the theatre, and among this very gifted company in particular. It is because working in theatre is transformative in the best possible way; it builds community, creates passionate dialogue, and encourages empathy in everyone willing to participate in it — as an actor, director, technician, administrator, or audience member.
Do come join us, won’t you?