What is interesting about this play is how, although it is a historical drama, the themes of human rights issues are still echoed in our modern society. Take for example the dilemma over what is the best way to handle criminals – punishment or rehabilitation. In the play, we have to ask which category Australia falls into and whether the prejudices will follow them.
It also leads us to think about the necessity for creativity in the process of rehabilitation. The characters in ‘Our Country’s Good’ find the play a form of redemption, escapism but more importantly, a way to discover another aspect of themselves that in reality, the pressures of living could never allow. It was only last year that our own government tried to limit access to books in prisons and only a month ago that high court overturned the Ministry of Justice’s toughened rules on earned privileges. The same points that English PEN and The Howard League raised about the benefits of literature for rehabilitation resonate in this play.
The play also raises questions of power and human rights. Though not all those in command work to debase the convicts, there are a series of power plays throughout, especially a scene in Act 2 which demonstrates this vividly and the role of the play to challenge this.
Character Profile: Liz Morden
- Has an arc of character development, from unmanageable, to broken, to the possibility of redemption
- Hard to sympathise with initially but after she is broken by her punishment from Act I, her vulnerability allows the audience to identify with her. Being a part of the play helps to brink her self worth back again.
- The play acts as a spring board for her now hope, only at last able to confront the persecution she felt by the officers; she manages to combat the self-censorship she imposes on herself regarding her situation
Character Profile: John Arscott
- The escape artist of the group; the most aggressive of the convicts
- He is tortured as part of his punishment for escaping; at one point the officers say that 150 lashes will open a man’s shoulder up and 250 to 500 lashes is to send a man to death. Let us consider for one moment the 1000 lashes that Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger, was sentenced to over three months ago.
Character Profile: Ketch Freeman
- Originally a dock worker that caught up in some striking problems, when threatened with his own death or delivering up names of fellow strikers, he chooses life, but is condemned to play to the role of ‘hang man’
- He has no platform to speak from about the actions he is forced to perform, and demonstrates the manipulation that can be made of the prostrate ‘criminal’ by those in control
You can see ‘Our Country’s Good’ now Fri 20th Feb – Sun 22nd Feb, at 7:30pm in the Drama Barn, University of York. Tickets can be purchased from the YUSU website and on the night. For more information, visit the Drama Soc website.