Theatre review: Taking Liberty, WA Maritime Museum

Taking Liberty is a celebration of Australia's 1983 America’s Cup sailing win.
Three cast members of the production Taking Liberty are in a yacht and looking direct to camera.

Taking Liberty, a play written by Ingle Knight, celebrates the Australian team’s win at the 1983 America’s Cup, a premier international sailing competition. It tells the story of West Australian businessman Alan Bond’s derring-do and determination to win the race after well over a century of US domination, and the technical ingenuity and athletic prowess of the team that created and sailed Australia II with Bond’s sponsorship. 

Actors Luke Hewitt, Joel Jackson and Kazimir Sas each play different roles, but primarily Alan Bond, skipper and crew leader John Bertrand and yacht designer Ben Lexcen respectively. Hewitt is a forceful actor and presents an affable interpretation of the fierce and occasionally rash Bond. Jackson channels cool circumspection, charisma and athleticism as Bertrand. He has great physical prowess on stage. Sas packs a powerful emotional punch as the distraught but fervently hopeful Lexcen. His excellent comic timing keeps pace throughout the show. This is a West Australian production team’s stellar rendition of an iconic West Australian story. 

The production uses video and animation projections to complement the on-stage live action. This creates a cinematic effect that works very well for the play. Routes and maps, visual explainers and footage of the sea and other yachts form the perfectly-timed backdrop to the action. The production value of the videography is superb. The video design team fittingly reproduces the cinematic techniques of the 1980s. 

There is an effervescence in the show that strikes the viewer as truly representative of the iconic Australian sailing achievement it depicts. The actors are energetic and power through the frenetic performance demanded of competitive sailors. The transitions between the roles and scenes occur seamlessly and, with such adeptness, you sometimes forget that this is a three-hander. It takes a certain pedigree and level of expertise to make such transitions seem effortless, and the three actors in this show do exactly that. 

Stuart Halusz’s directing rises to the various demands of the show, from integrating the video and live-action elements to encapsulating the long history of Australia’s evolving engagement with the America’s Cup with its numerous highs and lows in a taut performance. The play’s confident pace and successful delivery of tightly packed epochal progression are a testament to the director’s calibre. 

The 40th anniversary of the 1983 America’s Cup win is being celebrated at the WA Maritime Museum in Fremantle with this play and an exhibition that features photographs of the competition and mounted replicas of Australia II.

The commemorations are sure to evoke great nostalgia among people who remember the race and the news coverage surrounding it. For people who weren’t there at the time, there is a lot to learn from the exhibition and play. For instance, the race immortalised the image of the boxing kangaroo, a ubiquitous symbol of Australia’s fighting spirit. It also galvanised community spirit in Australia and fostered a cohesive national identity in the international sporting arena in a unique way, homing in on Australia’s distinctiveness as an island nation with a maritime history.

Read: Exhibition review: Short Shelf Life, Tactile Arts

When I first saw the famous footage of Prime Minister Bob Hawke celebrating the win over a decade ago, I knew instinctively that there was something special about that moment in Australian history. The play and exhibition at the WA Maritime Museum provide a comprehensive view of this moment and its significance.  

Taking Liberty
Theatre 180 and WA Maritime Museum
Writer: Ingle Knight
Director: Stuart Halusz
Sound designer: Ben Collins
Visual design: Gneiss Design
Visual production: Sunburnt Films
Costume designers: Neil Sheriff and Ingrid Zurzolo

Assistant sound designer: Noah Ivulich
Theme song composer: Craig Skelton

Cast: Luke Hewitt, Joel Jackson and Kazimir Sas

Tickets: $40-45

Taking Liberty will be performed until 1 October 2023.

Arjun Rajkhowa lives in Perth and enjoys writing about local arts and culture.