Left - Rohan Nichol and Stuart Halusz. Cover - Reg Cribb, Stuart Halusz and cast. Photos - Ashley de Prazer
In the early hours of September 27, 1983, Alan Bond, John Bertrand, Ben Lexcen and Warren Jones became the rock gods of Australian Sport. Now, 25 years later, some of these very same men sat in the front row at The Playhouse and watched their story be retold. Perth Theatre Company’s late Alan Becher commissioned playwright Ingle Knight to write a play commemorating the 25th anniversary of the cup win. The play is certainly a celebration of Australian sporting triumph and West Australian ingenuity and spirit, and will most likely pull on the patriotic strings of any Aussie with a pulse.
Taking Liberty covers a lot of ground, introducing us to the key players a decade before the win, and filling in the back story that most Gen Xers and Ys probably don’t know. Apart from the key characters of Bond (Sean Walsh), Bertram (Staurt Halusz) and Lexcen (Rohan Nichol), the cast is played by an ensemble of eight actors who share other key roles, including the crew, the press, and those damn Yanks. The ensemble do a terrific job with the fast-paced dialogue, speedy character changes, and what looks like some hard physical labour on the Australia II.
For me the joy of this production comes through the characters of Bond and Lexcen, and the relationship between Bond and Warren Jones (Reg Cribb). Sean Walsh plays a young and invincible Bond to a tee. I'm quite sure Bond himself got a kick out of his performance during the private showing on Saturday night. The spirited repartee between Bond and the overwrought Jones, who was the syndicate’s executive director, is a lot of fun. It also acts a reminder of just how easily we forget the fallen. Those Gen Ys I mentioned earlier would have little concept of just how big a hero Alan Bond was back then and it’s rather wonderful to see Walsh’s energetic portrayal of a man who took on the Americans at their own game and won. The psychological game that Bond played with the Americans is well depicted in the play with lines like “It’s not what you can afford, it’s what they think you can afford”, and the whole “Keelgate” controversy of Lexcen’s winged keel.
Rohan Nichol’s portrayal of the eccentric Ben Lexcen borders on a cross between David Helfgott and Rainman and is truly wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I wanted more of his story. And this is where Taking Liberty comes apart slightly; the story is swamped by the sport. For this reason, I doubt it will appeal to everybody. The entire second act is devoted to those historic seven races, and if you’re not a big fan of TV sports, seeing it re-enacted on stage isn’t as exciting as you may think it’s going to be. While Shaun Gurton’s revolving set is impressive, there are only so many cries of “Tacking the boat!” and watching the constructed yacht being pulled around in circles one can take before you start to wonder what else is going to happen. Nothing else really does happen in the second act though, so you really do need to be either a yachting enthusiast or a sports nut to really get into this amount of repetition.
That said, Taking Liberty is guaranteed to get the blood pumping and raise more than a wry smile or two on the lips of those who really do remember those heady days in the spring of 1983.
Perth Theatre Company
by Ingle Knight
Venue: Playhouse Theatre
Previews: Thursday 18 September 7.30pm; Friday 19 September 7.30pm
Matinees: Wednesday 1 October 11am; Saturday 27 September & Saturday 4 October 2.15pm
Season: Saturday 20 September – Saturday 4 October 2008
Times: Mondays 6.30pm; Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing on 9484 1133 or www.bocsticketing.com.au