It is unforgiveable that a new theatre should have only two seats that are just about bearable for someone of around average height so the programming at the St James will have to be very good to persuade me to tolerate the lack of leg room, short arm rests and a vertiginous rake. Luckily Our Country's Good qualifies. Max Stafford-Clark has given it an appropriately rough and ready production which contrasts the redeeming possibilities of an amateur theatrical production with the cruelties and injustice of Australia's first penal colony. A cast of just ten do wonders doubling, tripling and even quadrupling roles. John Hollingworth impresses as the remarkably liberal Governor General and Dominic Thorburn is very good as the naive 2nd lieutenant determined to see the best in his cast of convicts (a minor quibble; I don't think director was widely used as a theatrical term until the 1930s). Lovely Laura dos Santos is deeply touching as a young prisoner inspired by acting and a growing love for her 'director'. You really hope for a happy ending for her although this seems unlikely from the programme notes. Loosely based on a true story this is a slightly rose couloured love letter to the possibilities of theatre but offers a moving celebration of the human spirit even in the worst of circumstances. - David Baxter
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