It’s a play Karen Vickery has had in her directorial sights since the 1980s: Our Country’s Good.
Back then, when she was working for the Sydney Theatre Company, she saw it performed by the visiting Royal Court Company from London at the then-new Wharf Theatre.
Based on Thomas Keneally’s The Playmaker, it is set in Australia in 1789 where a young lieutenant is directing a play – the first to be staged in the young penal colony.
Winner of the Laurence Olivier Play of the Year award, the play is a fictionalised account of real events, events that are so much a part of our history. Many of the characters are based on real people who sailed on the First Fleet.
“It’s one of those plays I’ve never forgotten,” actor, director and educator Karen Vickery said.
“I developed a passion for it. First, for its historical content – it’s believed to be the first brought to the colonies and second, just because of the very nature of it.
“It’s about this young lieutenant directing rehearsals of the first play ever to be staged in the fledgling penal colony – with only two copies of the text, a cast of convicts and one leading lady who is just about to be hanged.”
It’s just as well Karen’s had such a rich and varied history in theatre – as director, actor, educator and more – as this production for the Canberra Repertory (REP) Society draws on all those skills, to say nothing of the 20 or scenery changes from shipboard life to colonial offices to the beach.
“It’s a constantly moving sort of play,” she said.
“There’s such a sense of beauty about it, but there’s also sadness – it’s all about how the power of the theatre can transform individuals and societies.”
A former teacher at the National Institute for Dramatic Art (NIDA), Karen has been in Canberra for 11 years, working until recently at the National Portrait Gallery, “but everything is so interconnected in Canberra so you can never go too far.
“But I thought now would be a good time to throw myself back into the theatre. There has been a renewed interest since COVID.”
This is the second Canberra REP show Karen has directed. The first was Brighton Beach Memoirs in 2020.
Karen says there’s something special about working with the Canberra REP. As the company celebrates its 90th year, she says it can stand proud alongside Sydney’s New Theatre as one of the oldest companies of its kind in Australia.
“It says a lot about them,” she said. “I think they’re only a few months in age apart, but it’s extraordinary what they’ve done, particularly the quality of what they’ve produced over those years.”
Regulars to Canberra REP shows will recognise old and new faces in the ensemble cast for Our Country’s Good, including Kate Blackhurst, Meaghan Stewart, Alexandra Pelvin, Amy Crawford, Callum Wilson, Maurice Downing and Paul Sweeney.
New performers include Gaurav Pant, Isabelle Gurney and Rosy Fasano.
The production team includes lighting designer Mike Moloney, sound designer Neville Pye, Helen Drum on costume design, stage manager David Goodbody and Liz de Totth as assistant director.
The stage was designed by Michael Sparks, using the wood, stone and canvas elements that the early colonial Sydney was built on.
The show opens on Friday, 9 September, and runs until 24 September with evening performances and matinees.
For more information and bookings, go to Canberra REP or call 6257 1950
The play will be performed at Naone Carrol Auditorium, Canberra REP Theatre, 3 Repertory Lane, Acton.