MADISON TAYLOR

Debuting at the Greystone Theatre on March 19, Our Country’s Good marks the end of another prosperous season for the University of Saskatchewan’s drama department.

Written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, this historically accurate drama takes place in the late 1700s and follows the tale of a British fleet transporting a ship full of criminals to the shores of Australia — with a Shakespearean twist.

Though first and foremost a ‘play within a play,’ Our Country’s Good is also the story of an aspiring military lieutenant, the hardships of life in the Australian outback and the invaluable influence of the arts upon civilization.

The choice to perform a play highlighting the importance of the arts within humanity comes at a crucial time in U of S history.

“It was at a pinnacle time when the university was undergoing drastic changes and people were wondering where the arts stood in the university and in people’s lives,” said Kody Manson, a third year drama student at the U of S who is also in the play.

Despite the cuts that many drama programs have received at the hand of the TransformUS movement, Manson believes that the department will continue to stand strong due to the efforts of its tightly knit faculty and student body. The dramatic arts have proven themselves to be a uniquely powerful fixture in academic culture — a factor that ensures the drama department will remain a vital asset in the future of the university and the student community.

“It will be interesting to see what next year holds,” Manson said. “But if we did get brought down in funding, I think the student body itself is very strong and very determined to do its own projects and stay involved. Some of us have discussed doing our own student productions next year and having some fun with that.”

Manson stars in the play as the gruff, mustachioed Captain Jemmy Campbell.

“Jemmy comes across as basically communicating through grunts and improbable versions of speech with a very heavy Scottish accent. He is a military man who has been through a great deal of war and trouble. He’s a man’s man,” Manson said.

The dedication that the drama department pours into a full-scale production such as Our Country’s Good is truly astounding. It takes deeply devoted actors to go to the lengths that the cast did in order to place themselves in their characters shoes.

“We spent one of our rehearsals inside a hot yoga studio to understand what the temperature would be like in Australia,” Manson said. “And a few weeks after that we decided to do a 36 hour fast for the play, because on the eight month journey across the sea our characters were on limited rations.

“At some point you start having troubles even focusing in class and you think ‘How could you possibly build a colony in a foreign country when you can’t even think straight?’”

In addition to its dedicated cast, Our Country’s Good sports a script that is both amusing and enlightening.

Though its roots may lie in British history, the play is blissfully free of any trace of dry commentary. It is a story that displays the advantage of optimism amidst suffering and proves the value of the dramatic arts in society, simultaneously expressing to the audience the enduring beauty and worth of creativity in even the darkest of times.

“You go home at the end of the day and realize that you learnt something about yourself that you never knew before,” Manson said. “It is great to have a space where you can test your own personal boundaries and just grow as a person. I strongly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to take an introductory class.”

Whether you are a self-proclaimed history buff, an advocate of the arts or simply someone with nothing to do on a weeknight, Our Country’s Good is well worth the price of admission. Prepare for an evening of encore-worthy acting, lavish costumes and extravagant facial hair.

Showing at the Greystone Theatre from March 19-29, tickets for Our Country’s Good are $15 for students, $17 for seniors and $20 for adults.  Arts.usask.ca/drama/greystone/ can be visited for further information on the production.