It is said that you should be wary of meeting your heroes lest they disappoint you, and at the Nuffield Theatre I encountered two of mine – Wertenbaker’s play itself and its director Max Stafford-Clark.
Sadly, I found some truth in the adage as this co-production between Out of Joint and the Bolton Octagon, which didn’t quite live up to my admittedly lofty expectations.
The problem is that a play celebrating the transformative power of theatre was staged in a stilted, self-conscious fashion. The nods to theatricality lacked conviction, the pace was too slow and the utter joy that the convicts feel when preparing to take to the stage did not come across sufficiently.
But Our Country’s Good is a masterwork, and the text and most of the ensemble managed to transcend these shortcomings.
Ciaran Owens excelled in the roles of Major Ross and hangman Ketch Freeman, imbuing the former with menace and the latter with pathos.
Matthew Needham’s Sideway was a pitch-perfect source of comedy and Kathryn O’Reilly played a splendidly brash yet humane Liz Morden, providing the moral core of this marvellous play.
Despite my misgivings, the sheer strength of the script means this is still a must-see production.