Liberation tells us that they can change the world but they need us, their audience, to do so. While a production in the New Globe theatre may not change the world, the work does encourage active engagement with the topic and provoke a questioning of one’s own personal form of liberation. With discussions of oppression, protest and empowerment, the show strings together a range of topics and presents them across a collection of platforms in a (mostly) cohesive and engaging manner.
The ensemble behind Liberation proudly tell us they are in “the business of questioning everything”. As the show unfolds this claim is proven reasonable, however the ensemble are only able to present a selection of their opinions, frustrations, and suggestions around the topic of liberation in their 45 minute time frame. In addition to their claim of “questioning everything”, the blurb suggests an overly ambitious summary of the show’s complex function and its communicative essence. The work claims to provide a message of hope, a call to arms, a reminder of our ability for freedom and warning all within a single production. Before entering the theatre I was convinced that the show’s all-encompassing description had either deemed it too ambitious for a single production or overcomplicated a simpler yet more effective work with an ill-fitting blurb. Luckily, the latter is the case.
While the show’s discussion points are well considered and intently focused, the ideas themselves are presented through a considerably casual approach. Each ensemble member strikes up a conversation, whether it be with themselves, their audience, their fellow actors or the very issues they are discussing. The more personal and accessible nature of the deliveries makes a considerably complex and confrontational topic become more accessible and conversational. As performers wander with their words, as if given a loose script or general guidance, they break down formal barriers between performer and audience to truly discuss the topics with us as if we are their scene partner. The ‘ums’ and stumbles that are usually inexcusable in a theatre production make the dialogue natural and genuine. As each segment expands on a topic or approach, the ensemble prove how they have worked together to consider and construct the piece as a solid unit. Each member cares about their discussion points as if they were speaking them personally for the first time. Each segment or voice attempts to pitch ideas, persuade opinions or punish dismissals surrounding our current social and political environments. While the Liberation team may not be outright revolutionaries, they are definitely using their craft to discuss prominent issues that should influence every audience member in one way or another.
Actors Robbie Maher and Jamie Zin lead the ensemble, with their powerful performances and provocative speeches translating as the strongest and most engaging of the piece. Maher opens the work in a prologue that sets the audience up for the show’s intermittent format. The prologue prepares the audience for a show presented by performers that use their real names, their own devised content, and their honest opinions. Maher is sharp tongued yet physically comfortable. His presence maintains a sense that the work is important, however he reminds us that the performers needn’t enforce a strain and aggression to do so. Zin continues this technique with a physically playful monologue that is equal parts hilarious as it is loaded with aggression. The two actors carry the performance, and at times their scene partners, keeping the work afloat and their dispositions predominantly comforting in what is an otherwise confronting and jaw clenching experience.
Unfortunately there are moments that drop in pace and impact, actors that are clumped together, and scene transitions that jar. After a powerful and climactic movement sequence at the show’s mid-point, the weaker of the ensemble members proceed to downplay and ridicule the very purpose of its inclusion. The impressive movement scene loaded with juxtaposing dance moves, an adrenaline inducing sound design and harrowing shouts of purpose is devalued by an overt questioning of the segment’s inclusion. This questioning is slow, awkward and detrimental to the movement sequence’s impact. Further, the problematic nature of the questioning is emphasized by the uncomfortable deliveries of the two female ensemble members. The two actresses stray from the ensemble’s casual and believable approach with a delivery of dialogue that seems over rehearsed and therefore stale. Zin’s more natural and charismatic presence within the scene rescues it from being completely unfortunate. However, the two individual actresses, forced together throughout the show like two odd socks being made to work as a pair, struggle their way through rigid dialogue and an overall questionable scene inclusion.
The remainder of the work’s moments were evidently well developed and respectfully considered, however their display was left in a formation that was unimaginative. With gaping holes between scenes that could have easily been made smooth with overlapping transitions or a more inventive activation of the space, the work’s presentation left something to be desired. The ensemble repeatedly filled the space through linear, triangular or splayed formations (with the exception of the aforementioned movement scene) which took the creative and clever content and displayed them in a dull or repetitive manner. Regardless of whether these moments were devised by the performers themselves, a stronger control and variety of direction would have taken this work and pushed the boundaries of the space as much as it did its social commentary.
Despite a few executional let downs, Liberation is a brave production that shines a light on the unnerving in a festival that otherwise tends to prioritise entertainment, enjoyment or unconventional environments. The work upholds a powerful discussion of current socio-political issues and, while it frames itself around an overly ambitious description, the work forefronts a question of what liberation means to many, rather than how it can be achieved by few.
Written by Rhumer Diball.
This review is based on the reviewer’s experience of the opening night performance on Tuesday May 10th.
To book tickets to Liberation click here.