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Issues of Identity, Nationality, and Performance: the Reception of Two Plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker

  • Susan Carlson

Abstract

This paper explores some of the many factors which affect the way in which the critical response to a production is made manifest. Using the reception of Timberlake Wertenbaker's The Love of the Nightingale and Our Country's Good as case studies, Susan Carlson contrasts the enthusiastic response to the first production of the latter play at the Royal Court, where its supposed celebration of the redemptive effects of theatricality were widely acclaimed, with the subjection of the former to the ‘atavistic guilts of male theatre reviewers’. Examining the reception of later productions – and even the West End transfer – of Our Country's Good, she proceeds to show how different theatres, companies, and senses of cultural, sexual, and national identity shaped ever-changing attitudes towards what was presumed to be the same play. Susan Carlson, whose article ‘Comic Collisions: Convention, Rage, and Order’ appeared in NTQ12 (November 1987), is Professor of English at lowa State University, and the author of Women of Grace: James's Plays and the Comedy of Manners (1985) and Women and Comedy: Rewriting the British Theatrical Tradition (1991). She is now working on issues of performance and collaboration in contemporary theatre, and writing about the work of the Omaha Magic Theatre and the playwriting of Karim Alrawi.

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I have been able to compile theatre reviews from around the world thanks to the help of Vanessa Frances and Michael Imison Playwrights Ltd.

, Alberta Theatre Projects, programme for Our Country's Good, November 1991.
Arnott, Paul, ‘Razing a Voice’, review of The Love of a Nightingale at the Pit, The Independent, 23 08 1989.
Arnott, Paul, ‘Return of the First Fleet’, interview with Ron Cook, The Independent, 9 08 1989, p. 24.
Asquith, Ros, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, City Limits, 15 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, p.9–22 September 1988, p. 1264.
Backalenick, Irene, ‘Hartford Stage Opens Season with Our Country's Good’, review of Love of the Nightingale in Hartford, Westport News, 12 10 1990, Sec. A, p. 43.
Barnes, Clive, ‘Convicted Actors’, review of Our Country's Good in New York City, New York Post, 30 04 1991; in New York Times Theater Critics' Reviews 1991, 52 (20 May 1991), p. 297–303.
Billington, Michael, review of Electra, The Guardian, 22 12 1988; in London Theatre Record, 2–31 December 1988, p. 1748–9.
Billington, Michael, review of The Love of the Nightingale at the Other Place, The Guardian, 11 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1602.
Billington, Michael, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Guardian, 12 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1267.
Blau, Herbert, ‘Hysteria, Crabs, Gospel, and Random Access: Ring around the Audience’, Studies in the Literary Imagination, XXI, No. 2 (Fall 1988), p. 721.
Bloch, Felicity, ‘Victories of Human Spirit’, review of Our Country's Good in Melbourne, Jewish News, 24 06 1989.
‘A Bold Play on an Early Play’, review of Our Country's Good in Melbourne, Diamond Valley News, 20 June 1989, p. 73.
Boyd, Chris, ‘First Rate Historical Play’, review of Our Country's Good in Melbourne, Melbourne Times, 7 06 1989.
Carlson, Susan, Women and Comedy: Rewriting the British Theatrical Tradition (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1991).
Condon, Tom, ‘For Prisoners, Play Mirrors the Real Thing’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, Hartford Courant, 28 10 1990.
Coveney, Michael, review of Electra, Financial Times, 21 12 1988; in London Theatre Record, 2–31 December 1988, p. 1749.
Coveney, Michael, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, Financial Times, 10 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1600.
Daly, Mike, ‘A Celebration for the Good of Our Theatre’, interview with Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Age, 2 06 1989.
Daly, Mike, ‘The Play that Marks Birth of the Nation's Theatre’, The Age, 12 05 1989.
de Jongh, Nicholas. ‘A Violent Silence’, review of The Love of the Nightingale at the Pit, The Guardian, 23 08 1989.
de Jongh, Nicholas, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Guardian, 12 08 1989; in London Theatre Record, 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1047.
de Vries, Hilary, ‘Of Convicts, Brutality, and the Power of Theater’, New York Times, 30 09 1990, Sec. 2, p. 10,34.
de Vries, Hilary, ‘This Angry Young Man Is a Woman’, Los Angeles Times/Calendar, 10 09 1989, p. 41.
Diamond, Elin, ‘Brechtian Theory/Feminist Theory: Toward a Gestic Feminist Criticism’, The Drama Review, XXXII, No. 1 (Spring 1988), p. 8294.
Dolan, Jill, The Feminist Spectator as Critic (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1988).
Drake, Sylvie, ‘Over its Content’, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Times, 6 11 1990, Sec. F, p. 1, 9.
Edwardes, Jane, review of Electra, Time Out, 4 01 1989; in London Theatre Record, 2–31 December 1988, p. 1746.
Edwardes, Jane, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, Time Out, 16 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1599,
Edwards, Christopher, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Spectator, 24 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1267.
Evans, Bob, ‘The Ultimate Post-Bicentenary Event’, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 05 1989.
Fischer-Lichte, Erika, ‘Intercultural Aspects in Post-modern Theatre: a Japanese Version of Chekhov's Three Sisters’, in Scolnicov and Holland, p. 173–85.
Fitzsimmons, Linda, ‘The Use and Interrogation of Myth and Myth-Making in the Work of Timberlake Wertenbaker’, paper presented at ‘Breaking the Surface’, 11 1991, Calgary, Alberta.
Forte, Jeanie, ‘Realism, Narrative, and the Feminist Playwright – a Problem of Reception’, Modern Drama, XXXII (03 1989), p. 115–27.
Gauntlett, Frank, ‘Royals Recruit History for a Lusty Old Farce’, review of The Recruiting Officer, location not available.
Glaap, Albert-Reiner, ‘Whose Life Is It Anyway? in London and on Broadway: a Contrastive Analysis of the British and American Versions of Brian Clark's Plays’, in Scolnicov and Holland, p. 214–23.
Gowdie, Cathy, ‘Spanning 200 Years in Two Plays’, The Age, 30 06 1989.
Gussow, Mel, ‘Of Convicts, the Stage, and Australia's Beginnings’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, New York Times, 21 10 1990.
Gussow, Mel, ‘Very Special Deliveries from Sweden and Ireland’, New York Times, 29 12 1991, Sec 2, p. 5.
Hepple, Peter, review of Our Country's Good at the Garrick, The Stage, 14 12 1989, p. 15.
Hiley, Jim, review of Electra, The Listener, 12 01 1989; in London Theatre Record, 2–31 December 1988, p. 1749–50.
Hiley, Jim, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Listener, 22 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1266.
Hoyle, Martin, review of The Love of the Nightingale at the Pit, Financial Times, 24 08 1989.
Hoyle, Martin, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Financial Times, 12 08 1989; in London Theatre Record, 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1046.
Hurren, Kenneth, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, Mail on Sunday, 13 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1600–1.
Hurren, Kenneth, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Mail on Sunday, 18 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1266–7.
Johnson, Malcolm, ‘The Cast Rejoices in Staginess’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, The Hartford Courant, 8 10 1990, Sec. A, p. 18.
Jones, D. A. N., review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, Sunday Telegraph, 13 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1601.
Keezing, Henry M., ‘Country's Good Powerful, Positive at Hartford Stage’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, The Herald, 12 10 1990, p. 14.
Kellaway, Kate, ‘The Play's the Thing, the Rest is Silence’, The Observer, 5 02 1989, p. 39.
Kellaway, Kate, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Observer, 18 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1265.
Kemp, Peter, review of Electra, The Independent, 22 12 1988, in London Theatre Record, 2–31 December 1988, p. 1747.
Kemp, Peter, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Independent, 12 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1265.
Keneally, Thomas, The Playmaker (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987).
Kloten, Edgar, ‘Fascinating Play within a Play at Stage Company’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, Community Times, 11–12 10 1990, p. 8.
Koenig, Rhoda, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Punch, 25 08 1989; in London Theatre Record, 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1048.
, Krug, review of Our Country's Good in Sydney, Variety, 14–20 06 1989.
Lavender, Andy, review of The Love of the Nightingale at the Pit, City Limits, 21 09 1989.
Loewenberg, Susan Albert, ‘For the Love of Nightingale – a Fear for its Existence’, Los Angeles Times, 25 06 1990, Sec. F, p. 3.
McGillick, Paul, ‘The Best of British’, review of Our Country's Good and The Recruiting Officer in Sydney, Financial Review, 30 06 1989.
Marmion, Patrick, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, What's On, 16 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1601–2.
Martin, Mick, ‘Sloane Square Savages’, interview with Timberlake Wertenbaker, The Guardian, 31 08 1988.
Marowitz, Charles, ‘A Classic Tale of Man's Inhumanity to Woman’, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles, The Guardian, 10 07 1990.
Marowitz, Charles, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles, Theater Week 30 07–5 08 1990, p. 18–19.
Marranca, Bonnie, and Dasgupta, Gautam eds., Interculturalism and Performance: Writings from PAJ (New York: PAJ Publications, 1991).
Melbourne Theatre Company, programme for Our Country's Good 1989.
Miller, Daryl H., ‘Classic-Contemporary Clash Weighs down Nightingale’, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles Daily News 24 06 1990, p. 23–4.
Morley, Sheridan, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Punch, 23 09 1988, in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1264–5.
Neil, Rosemary, ‘An Unshackled Success’, review of Our Country's Good in Sydney, The Australian, 5 06 1989.
Oakley, Barry, ‘A Review of Two Cities’, review of Our Country's Good and The Recruiting Officer in Melbourne and Sydney, The Independent Monthly, 07 1989.
O'Donnell, Carolyn, ‘A Forceful Mix of the Old and New’, Herald Tuesday Magazine 6 06 1989.
Osborne, Charles, review of Electra, Daily Telegraph 22 12 1988; in London Theatre Record 2–31 December 1988, p. 1748.
Osborne, Carolyn review of Our Country's Good, Daily Telegraph 14 08 1989; in London Theatre Record 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1049.
Peter, John, ‘The Moving Lessons that History Can Teach Us’, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Sunday Times, 18 09 1988.
Radic, Leonard, ‘Convict Past Comes to Life’, review of Our Country's Good in Melbourne, The Age, 8 06 1989.
Redmond, James, ‘If the Salt Have Lost His Savour: Some useful Plays in and out of Context on the London Stage’, in Scolnicov and Holland, p. 63–88.
Rich, Frank, ‘Broadway Season's Last Drama Offers a Defence of Theatre’, review of Our Country's Good in New York City, New York Times 30 04 1991; in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 1991, 52 (20 May 1991), p. 297–303.
Richards, David, ‘In the Language of Lockjaw, Subtext Is All’, New York Times 19 05 1991, Sec. 2, p. 5, 28.
Ritchie, Rob, ed, The Joint Stock Book: the Making of a Theatre Collective (London: Methuen, 1987).
Rose, Helen, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Time Out, 16 08 1989; in London Theatre Record 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1047.
Ruta, Suzanne, ‘Creating an Actress Requires a Dream’, New York Times, 26 05 1991, Sec. 2, p. 5.
Schechner, Richard, ‘Intercultural Themes’, in Marranca and Dasgupta, p. 308–17.
Schmidt, Michael, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, Daily Telegraph, 15 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 Nov. 1988, p. 1600.
Scolnicov, Hanna, and Peter, Holland, The Play out of Context: Transferring Plays from Culture to Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Pess, 1989).
Sharp, Graham, ‘Exploring Ideas from Early Australia’, review of Our Country's Good in Melbourne, Advocate Magazine, 22 06 1989, p. 3.
Shmith, Michael, ‘The Playwright: Timberlake Werten-baker’, Melbourne Theatre Company playbill for Our Country's Good, 1989.
Shulman, Milton, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Evening Standard, 12 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1267.
Siegel, Joe, review of Our Country's Good in New York City, WABC TV; in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 1991, 52 (20 05 1991), p. 297303.
Spencer, Charles, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, Daily Telegraph, 12 09 1988; in London Theatre Record, 9–22 September 1988, p. 1264–5.
Stafford-Clark, Max, Letters to George: the Account of a Rehearsal (London: Nick Hern Books, 1989).
Stearns, David Patrick, ‘Our Country's Good Radiates Relevance’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, USA Today, 23 10 1990, Sec. D, p. 6.
Stuart, Jan, ‘Prison Play Heals Convicts’, review of Our Country's Good in New York City, New York Newsday, 30 04 1991; in New York Theatre Critics' Reviews 1991, 52 (20 May 1991), p. 297–303.
Stuart, Jan, ‘Sea as Stage for a Morality Play’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, New York Newsday 22 09 1990, Sec. 2, p. 5.
Swanson, Debbi K., ‘Nightingale Wondrous’, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles, The Outlook, 22 06 1990, p. 4.
Taylor, Paul, ‘A Snip of the Tongue’, review of The Love of the Nightingale at The Other Place, The Independent, 11 11 1988; in London Theatre Record, 4–17 November 1988, p. 1601.
, Teen, review of The Love of the Nightingale in Los Angeles, Variety Daily, 26 06 1990.
Tinker, Jack, review of Our Country's Good at the Garrick, Daily Mail, 1 12 1989.
Viagas, Robert, ‘Our Country's Good Examines Life in Australian Penal Colony’, review of Our Country's Good in Hartford, New Haven Register, 10 10 1990, p. 25.
Weber, Carl, ‘AC/TC: Currents of Theatrical Exchange’, in Marranca and Dasgupta, p. 27–37.
Wertenbaker, Timberlake, The Love of the Nightingale (London: Faber and Faber, 1989).
Wertenbaker, Timberlake, Our Country's Good (London: Methuen, 1988).
White, Bob, ‘Director's Notes’, programme for Alberta Theatre Projects production of Our Country's Good, Calgary, Alberta, 11 1991.
Wilson, Ann, ‘Our Country's Good: Theatre, Colony, and Nation in Wertenbaker's Adaptation of The Play-maker’, Modern Drama, XXXIV (03 1991), p. 2334.
Wolf, Matt, review of Our Country's Good at the Royal Court, The Listener, 24 08 1989; in London Theatre Record, 30 July–12 August 1989, p. 1046.

Issues of Identity, Nationality, and Performance: the Reception of Two Plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker

  • Susan Carlson

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