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Taking Liberties Theatre Company …Australia’s Court Jester…poignantly mad, seriously funny, joyfully biting political theatre…see a fool, break a rule, take a liberty...

Typifying the political theatre of Taking Liberties Theatre Company is the explosive political-current affairs satire That’s Twice by Michael Earnshaw and Gunduz Kalic. Originally, the play was pirated/smuggled for its world premiere into Australia’s Parliament House in late 1993. In the words of the Canberra Times, “Australia’s politicians were lambasted in their own den”.

Moreover, the play was a warning of the likely rise of Hansonism in the face of the (later widely recognised) abandonment of regional Australia to the worst effects of globalisation

Most of the politicians who watched – especially those on the government benches – were horrified at the ferociously biting portrayal of themselves. “What are you trying to do, start a war?”, was the reaction of a cameraman for one of Australia’s TV networks, who filmed the entire proceeding. Yet ordinary workers and media personnel in the Parliamentary precinct – and a few politicians with a sense of humour – loved the show. And laughed their heads off.

Subsequently, That’s Twice toured extensively, playing at both theatrical and stand-up comedy venues. The Australian called the show an “explosion of noise and colour” and a “two fingered riposte from Australia’s forgotten people delivered with enough cartoonish energy to fuel our manufacturing industries for a year, if we had any”. 

A European audience member said that the closest thing he had experienced to That’s Twice was when, during the Commedia del’arte revival of the 1960s, he had seen a topflight Commedia troupe play highly explicit sexual hijinks in front of a devoutly Catholic audience. Watching That’s Twice, the sense of being in verboten territory – laughing all the way – is palpable.

The play remains in the Company repetoire as ongoing current affairs comedy and is adapted nightly to take into account the “latest news” and regularly updated and restructured to match developing socio-political trends.

Shows are played in the trademark Taking Liberties stand-up comedy style and performed to audiences of non-theatregoers.   Via the ABC-TV news program Stateline, characters from That’s Twice played to Queensland media audiences in 1996, commenting on state politics of the day.  The play has been documented by SBS-TV in its Imagine program segment about Taking Liberties and characters from it have also had a number of “impromptu meetings” in public places with leading Australian political figures, often garnering considerable media coverage.

Currently, two original plays by the company’s director are in rehearsal – the first of these is a strong piece of social criticism in the form of a “rap opera”. It is concerned with the usage of performance techniques (derived ultimately from acting) by contemporary elites (including politicians) to wield power.  (The theatrical antecedents of this work can be found, among other places, in Brecht’s Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.) 

 

Taking Liberties is an unsubsidised theatre company. Following in the popular theatrical tradition of Garcia Lorca, Theatre Workshop and Dario Fo, it survives by extensively touring its own original creations and the adapted works of Shakespeare and other classic playwrights across Northern and Outback Australia.  Performing in its signature stand-up comedy style, the company plays for audiences who do not normally go to theatre in pubs, licensed clubs and workplaces, on stations and homesteads and for and with aboriginal communities.

The popular theatre repertoire of Taking Liberties includes the Globetrotters Theatre Restaurant; an around-the-world series of themed theatre restaurant shows celebrating the multicultural make-up of Australia and featuring comedy and musical performance. The most recent of these shows is On the Wallaby, an Australiana show. Other shows include Carnivale, Arrividerci Mama, and Folti Towirs Bombay.

Australia’s SBS TV has documented on its Imagine program the Taking Liberties The Taming of the Shrew as performed to an audience of non-theatregoers at a Bundaberg Rugby League club. The program highlights the joyous, participatory response of audiences to this style of work.

 
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