Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

A frightening and provocative dark comedy about human rights, hidden secrets, and a hapless individual versus a faceless government department.
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Welcome to the 21st century; a world of constant video and computer surveillance, where hidden secrets are stored and revealed at painfully critical moments. Big Brother is watching you. All the time. Everywhere.

Set in a world of fussy officiousness, of mountains of unnecessary intrusive government paperwork and omnipotent monitoring, Geoffrey Atherden’s (Mother and Son, Grass Roots) Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is a frightening and thought provoking dark comedy about human rights, hidden secrets, and a hapless individual versus a faceless government department. While witty and funny, it also raises some very disturbing issues.

As the audience is seated we join Orlagh (Caroline Brazier) as she undergoes a traumatic ordeal. At first there’s not much to see: the set is a pale, anonymous room, sparsely decorated: skylights, a table, a couple of chairs, a computer and a huge TV screen. The audience is the ‘fourth wall’ of anonymous departmental observers. On the screen we see Orlagh waiting, and waiting, becoming nervous and stressed. Then, suddenly, she appears onstage.

Orlagh is ‘voluntarily’ detained for questioning regarding possible terrorist links. She is an ordinary innocent citizen, a suburban housewife and mother whose primary concern, particularly at first, is that her daughters Samantha and Hannah are picked up from school and that her husband is OK.

But to her irritated bewilderment her ordeal has only just begun. Enter Arky (Andrew Ryan) wheeling a giant trolley of documents; his maddening Yes Minister–ish obsessive focus on tiny, trivial details and the correct filling out of forms further evokes the feel of a Brazil-like nightmare.

Later in the piece, Helmut Bakaitis as Arky’s boss (or is he?) makes an elegant, mysterious appearance, and Orlagh’s family secrets are revealed as the line of questioning becomes more obtrusive. Will she be tortured? Will she be broken by the questioning? Will she ever be released?

Both Brazier and Ryan give tremendous performances under Shannon Murphy’s inspired direction, resulting in a tightly disciplined partnership featuring biting repartee. Playing the script straight ensures plenty of laughs, at the same time evoking a chilling atmosphere. Orlagh becomes an ‘Everywoman’, winning the audience’s respect with her verbal parrying of Arky’s maddening questions.  

The monotonous office lighting is mostly consistent, and muzak plays throughout; though allegedly soothing, it quickly becomes annoying, both for Orlagh and the audience. Various computer projections flash up from time to time on the large rear screen.  

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity is a provocative play that may well make you think twice before posting photos on Facebook or sending an email; it will certainly have you glancing nervously at the ubiquitous, unobtrusive CCTV cameras that watch you everywhere you go.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity

By Geoffrey Atherden

Director: Shannon Murphy

Assistant Director: James Culbert

Designer: Michael Hankin

Lighting Designer/AV Designer: Verity Hampson

Sound Designer: Stephen Toulmin

Wardrobe Coordinator: Terri Kibbler

Dialect Coach: Natasha McNamara

Cast: Helmut Bakaitis, Caroline Brazier and Andrew Ryan

Running time: 90 mins (approx) no interval


Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli

7 February – 9 March


Lynne Lancaster
About the Author
Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.