THEATRE REVIEW: Our Country’s Good with music by Cerys Matthews

WORTH A LOOK: ****1/2

WHERE: National Theatre

WHEN: 15/9 runs to 17/10

It was the involvement of former Catatonia frontwoman Cerys Matthews that encouraged monstagigz through the door for this and we were far from disappointed.

The National has an enviable reputation of involving musicians in its productions – last year we saw Medea featuring music by Goldfrapp and later this year Damon Albarn from Blur contributes wonder.land.

We weren’t familiar with Timberlake Wertenbaker’s adaption of The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally which is all about redemption through theatre and is set in 1788 as England’s outcasts arrive in Australia’s Botany Bay. It’s a similar setting to series Banished created by Jimmy McGovern which aired on BBC2 earlier this year.

But where Banished was almost soapy in its content Our Country’s Good looks at poverty, why people commit crime, injustice and how education and art might be a route to salvation.

It was quite a mature audience for this National matinee and there was much cooing when our hero (played by Jason Hughes, who monstagigz remembers from TV’s This Life but was apparently in Midsomer Murders) takes to the stage. Familiar faces elsewhere include Paul Kaye (TV’s Dennis Pennis) and Cucumber‘s Cyril Nri. But it’s Caoilfhionn Dunne as Mary Brenham who the audience is rooting for and outshines all.

Cerys Matthews’ music was beautiful and enhanced the action. But ultimately it’s the message at the play’s heart, one likely to have much appeal with theatregoers, which ensures this is a great production.

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