As a director, discuss how you would stage the following extract from ‘Our Country’s Good’ in order to bring out your interpretation of it for an audience.
Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good aimed to push the boundaries of theatre and deliver a political message as potent now as it was in the 80’s when the play was written. Thatcher was in power in the 1980’s and it was her attempt to abolish the arts that ironically inspired a huge swell in the writing of many political plays which drew attention to the dire situation Thatcher was leading Britain into. The main message Wertenbaker aimed to convey was the redemptive power of the arts, highlighting their ability to heal even the most broken society, like that of Botany Bay in 1789, or even perhaps Thatcherite Britain? Despite Thatcher’s rule having ended, even today with Gove’s talk of introducing the English baccalaureate into schools as a replacement for GCSE’s, it is arguable that the message has no less meaning now than it did then.
When directing Act one Scene 9 of the play Our Country’s Good I would intend for Wertenbaker’s original message came across clearly for an audience, however this is more difficult in this scene than in others. There is a much stronger focus on the individual characters of Ketch and Ralph in this scene that on ‘the play’ therefore displaying the redemptive power of the arts will be one of a few various dramatic intentions. For example I would intend for the audience to feel a sense of discomfort at witnessing what is being revealed in Ralph’s tent, both with regards Ralphs disjointed stream of consciousness talking about his “Betsy Alicia” and Ketch’s disorderly, sometimes contradictory rant about his past. I would want this awkwardness to at some points create an eerie atmosphere on stage, but also later become a tool for comedic purposes. I’d also like to depict clearly the contrast in the personalities of the two men and therefore help to highlight the plays positive effect on Ralph as well as the convicts as he becomes more passionate and caring over time.
I would use the transition from scenes 8 to 9 as a means to put the audience in an uncomfortable situation from the off. As Liz Morden says her line “Welcome to town cousin Silvia” a tattered sheet hung from the flies would fall in front of her in the same way a curtain would at the end of a performance or play, subtly reinforcing the important relationship between the convicts and the play. This ‘curtain’ would previously have been used to represent the sails of the colony ship and would be used again in Act 2 scene 11 as the curtain for the convicts performance, this in in keeping with the Brechtian style (Epic theatre) by use of swiftly changeable and easily manipulated multi-purpose sets. Once the ‘curtain’ has fallen, the actors playing Liz and Mary will part the sheet from the centre tying it at the side, creating a setting reflective of an open door of a tent (Ralphs tent) revealing Ralph sat at his desk inside. Instantly the audience will gain a feeling of voyeurism as they are given, through the set alone, the impression that they are peering in on Ralph in a very private situation. I would like it to appear that the only light in the ‘tent’ is coming from a candle on the desk, however to do this for real would give insufficient lighting for the audience. I would have a diffuse wash of yellow light over the stage, insuring all the action on stage is visible, then to create the illusion of candle light I would have Ralph being lit from beneath (as a candle would) by using a birdie placed on the ground under his desk. This would not only give the impression of candle light, but give Ralphs face a dark shadowy quality making his appearance more threatening and sinister.
The actor playing Ralph I would cast as a short but well-built man, with dark hair and pale skin (pale skin indicating that unlike the convicts he is not made to work outside in the...
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