From censorial puritans to pustulant plagues, all-consuming fires to a fair few more gross plagues, all manner of disasters human-made and otherwise have threatened the very existence of theatre. Spoiler: they didn’t succeed, and they won’t this time round either.
The bright sparks that tread our boards, write our plays and light up the sets are tenacious. They always find new ways to keep the drama going. In Sydney, there has been a joyful re-embracing of the dinner and a show tradition, and we've even seen the Bard braving Zoom. Many creators have likewise headed online.
A clutch of theatre royalty banded together to shoot web series Liberty St in an abandoned Enmore apartment block, with an appropriately distanced crew. It’s created by Duncan Ragg (Much Ado About Nothing), artistic director of Sydney theatrical collective the Corinthian Food Store, and Victorian-based co-writer Jessica Marshall (Playing for Keeps, Bad Mothers).
Early on in lockdown, Ragg and his partner received the heinous news that their apartment was about to be demolished. At the same time, Marshall had just sold up everything and was set to move to LA when international borders came crashing down. She’s now sleeping on her mum’s living room floor in rural Victoria, while Ragg had to pack his life up and start over too. Commiserating together, they wrote Liberty St over Zoom. Ragg’s ex-home is the setting, filming in its abandoned shell.
Eight hilarious and heartfelt seven-minute episodes lean into these dislocated times, exploring intimacy and loss in strange days. Each ep features one actor going through the emotional rollercoaster. The impressive cast cherrypicks some of our finest stars of stage and screen. Comedian Susie Youssef (Rosehaven, Home, I’m Darling) is on board, as is Catherine Van Davies. Fresh from STC's hit run of No Pay? No Way! the latter’s about to light up our screens on SBS supernatural drama Hungry Ghosts. They’re joined by Harry Greenwood (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Nightingale), Charles Wu (Australia Day, Torch the Place), Sara West (The Wild Duck, The Commons) and Steve Rodgers (Goldstone, King of Pigs).
Youssef says the show was a beacon of hope for the stars. “I know it sounds dramatic, but that’s what Liberty St felt like when it came along at a time when most of us actors felt like we may never work again.”
Van Davies agrees. “It was such an honour to be amongst creative people I adore at a time where we were all feeling pretty glum,” she says. “Our jobs are being undermined by the government, with huge job losses across the sector. So, of course, artists did what we do best, and created a loving portrait of connection and community in a time of despair.”
Wu, who also composed the moving score, says it was a way to channel the frustration they were experiencing. “To turn the restlessness and dreaming of isolation into something that speaks directly to the now and always, finding big stories in the smallest places.”
Despite darkened theatres and Australian states held separate from one another, together they made it work. “At the time we were writing, in those first few weeks of lockdown, everyone was scrambling to understand what it would mean for us, both immediately and in the long term,” Ragg says. “And out of that deep sense of loss, writing these stories with Jess felt like penning a love letter. Releasing through our own website is a way of taking back control and connecting with the community who want to see these stories, their stories, reflected on screen.”
Out of adversity, something special has sprung forth, Ragg suggests. “It’s so rare as a storyteller to be able to make something that feels of the moment and reflects the moment.”
You can binge the entire one-hour season of Liberty St on the Corinthian website from Wednesday, August 19 for the bargain price of $8. Now that is something to celebrate.