Observed by a lone, mystified Aboriginal Australian, the first convict ship arrives in Botany Bay, 1788, crammed with England's outcasts. Colony discipline in this vast and alien land is brutal. Three proposed public hangings incite an argument: how best to keep the criminals in line, the noose or a more civilised form of entertainment?
The ambitious Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark steps forward with a play. But as the mostly illiterate cast rehearses, and a sense of common purpose begins to take hold, the young officer's own transformation is as marked and poignant as that of his prisoners.
A profoundly humane piece of theatre, steeped in suffering yet charged with hope, Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good (based on a true story) celebrates the redemptive power of art.
It premiered at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1988, winning the Laurence Olivier Play of the Year Award. This edition was published to coincide with a major revival production at the National Theatre, which opened on 19 August 2015.