Our Country's Good, The Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham.
Our Country's Good is showing at The Everyman this week but excellent is a more accurate term for Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton's production.
Taking in massive themes from justice and class to sexism and the very definition of civilisation, Timberlake Wertenbaker's drama about the first convicts sent to Australia is also gripping and witty and so well acted you feel transported to that harsh world yourself.
It features a play within a play as an officer who believes acting can do more to educate and reform than hanging and flogging turns the thieves and prostitutes cast ashore into the cast of a show.
More remarkable because it's actually based on a true story, Our Country's Good contains weighty enough issues to sink a convict ship but while it brings a tear to the eye showing we used to hang teenagers and old ladies for stealing a biscuit, it subtlety offers food for thought rather than forcing it down your throat.
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Prima donna moments, bickering and banter create plenty of comedy and there's a thread of romance and much suspense as a botched escape plan means a leading lady is measured for a noose rather than costume so you wonder if the show will go on.
The only downside is frequent scene changes disrupt the flow a little although they are subtlety done.
In this 'topsy turvy' down under world ideas are overturned to question who are the criminals? Those who steal from hunger or those who hang them.
Drama, even by a cast of dishonest convicts, exposes the truth and changes our convictions to make our country a better place, we are shown. Shame then if celebrated director Max Stafford-Clark was right in his post-show chat about government cutting arts funding again.
Our Country's Good runs until Saturday, October 13 at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham. For tickets, which cost from £10 to £25, call the box office on 01242 572 2573 or go online at www.everymantheatre.co.uk.