Taking Liberty

Nerida Dickinson

DECKCHAIR THEATRE: You don't need to remember or even have any knowledge of the events of 1983 to enjoy this spectacular and engaging triumph of theatrical performance.
Taking Liberty
A topical triumph for Deckchair Theatre and Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, Taking Liberty is consistently passionate and engaging, never stale nor reliant on nostalgia to carry it across the line.

Taking Liberty follows the larger than life characters who successfully challenged the America’s Cup in 1983, from the disparate boyhoods of John Bertrand, Alan Bond and Ben Lexcen. The first half of the play gives the back story of the characters and events preceding the 1983 challenge, following the rise of Bond’s business empire, Bertrand’s involvement with failed Cup challenges through the 1970s and Lexcen’s on again, off again associations with Bond and boating. The second half of the performance focuses on the blow by blow unfolding of the 1983 campaign, both on and off the water.

The structure of the play is such that it can be followed and enjoyed without any knowledge of the time, the event or the sport, the personalities or the politics. However there are plenty of little gems hidden in throwaway lines, costumes and the set, eliciting chuckles from those in the know – Perth landmarks bought by Bondy, descriptions of business deals done on the side, Dunlop volleys, gold-plated telephone receivers, power suits and a planned boycott of the Moscow Olympics. And, during and after the interval, plenty of 80s-era Oz Rock thrown in for good measure.

From the moment of entry, the transformation wrought by the spectacular transverse set fascinated the audience. Victoria Hall looked very different from a side view, with a boat running down the middle of it! However the set proved its versatility as the play progressed, also doing service for everything from boardroom to golf course to a multitude of press conferences, although the great skill and consistent concentration of cast members was what really brought this to life.

Casting was spot on, with each of the three main characters played by a convincing physical match to the role. The lead actors let the well-known personalities shine through – Luke Hewitt’s Bondy reminding us vividly of why he was so beloved and reviled even during the heyday of Bond Corporation. Stuart Halusz as Bertrand took us on more than a boat ride as the tale unfolded over the years, and Benj D’Addario was a winsomely goofy dreamer as Lexcen. The three actors worked together to reveal the gradually deepening intensity of obsession that gripped the men who drove the campaign to make the challenge happen, time and time again. All the cast were believable and engaging, delivering the script’s direct and natural dialogue in a fresh and spontaneous manner that took us beyond the theatre to a fly-on-the-wall vantage of dramatic sporting history.

As a play about a specific sports event, technical descriptions and commentary were inevitable. Nautical terms such as tacking, the job descriptions of grinders, the vital importance of relative boat position in terms of wind and the timing of the start – these as well as the history and context of the America’s Cup were introduced and discussed without interrupting or dominating the narrative flow, in ways that were never condescending, repetitive or obscure. By the end of the play, with the seventh race in the series coming down to the wire, the whole house was engrossed in the technical commentary without becoming lost by the details. Amazingly, remembering that the outcome of the race series has been on public record for 28 years, the thrill of the down-to-the-wire finish of the deciding race had audience members on the edges of their seats.

Deckchair Theatre has nailed this production of Taking Liberty, embracing the current sailing buzz around Fremantle and adding the dimensions of history to the mix.

Rating: 5 stars

Deckchair Theatre in Association with Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships presents
Taking Liberty
By Ingle Knight
Director: Chris Bendall
Assistant Director: Joe Lui
Set & Costume Designer: Andrew Bellchambers
Lighting Designer: Trent Suidgeest
Sound Designer: Kingsley Reeve
Production Manager: Gareth Simmonds
Stage Manager: Genevieve Jones
Technical Assistant: Tess Reuvers
Assistant Designer: Sara Chirichilli
Set Construction: Plumb Construction & Design
Cast: Benj D’Addario, Nick Candy, Stuart Halusz, Luke Hewitt, Greg McNeill, Craig Williams

Victoria Hall, Fremantle
December 2–17, 2011
Bookings: www.deckchairtheatre.com.au

About the author

Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.