Our Country's Good
Theatre, Colonialism and Other Shadows
"A person, who endeavours to stand in the light, must necessarily cast a shadow. In fact, the light is invisible until it strikes a person. It is the act, the endeavour to stand in a moral place, which reflects the light … but which also creates the shadow." - Greg Nelson
Contemplate the shadow of colonization of a land, a body, a mind, or of a theatre. Is this an act of entitlement or privilege, of civilization or barbarity?
Our Country’s Good is an award-winning play that has received many productions. I have had the good fortune to see a few of them, both in Canada and in Britain. Most of these productions celebrated the redemptive qualities of the act of creating theatre, and this makes a lot of sense, given that the play’s central action is just such an endeavour. But I left these shows with nagging questions about the real cost of the apparently civilising act of theatre. Isn’t theatre a form of colonialism, just like the parliament, or the RCMP, or our education system? These are the foundations upon which any civilised society is built, government, enforcement of laws, and education; but at what cost, and to whom? What existed before these foundations were laid, and what is the relationship between what existed before and what has been built in the name of colonial progress?
I think that the theatre – the space and its conventions – in which you are about to see this work is as much a construct of colonialism as any treaty, law, or institution that we have established in the colonialisation of Canada. An act perpetuated, of course, upon aboriginal peoples and their land. This space of performance, with all its good intentions, narratives and enactments under the bright lights is in fact also a place of profound shadow.
Consider convict transport in the name of colonization: Our Country’s Good pushes a weary regiment of officers and their petty-criminal charges to reinvent social order on Australia’s wild new frontier. Thousands of miles from their native home, the entire spectrum of humanity is confronted, from compassion to brutality. Can this be a colony of redemption, for convict and officer alike? Where is the light casting these shadows?