The play was written in 2013 as a response to a perceived crisis of political education in the UK. Many young adults seem to have a very flimsy notion of the history and character of our social democracy and of the progressive economic and political struggles that have brought it about, and how we got to be supposedly free citizens in a free country.
The Liberty Tree is deliberately aimed at these young people and is an attempt to help teachers and lectures to teach this potentially dry subject through the vehicle of drama, music and comedy. The play was first produced in Bath and London in 2015 by Public Domain Productions.
In the last century theatre played an important part in educating activists and inspiring radical politics. From the Workers Theatre Movement of the 1920’s and 30’s, The Unity Theatre movement that followed it, the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the 50’s and 60’s and their socialist realism, and the late 1970’s ‘agitprop’ companies such as Red Ladder, C.A.S.T and Belt And Braces, theatre has played an important role in the political discourse. Indeed, the arts and especially ‘story’, has always played a part in political discourse and the aesthetic of The Liberty Tree, is largely derived from the 18th century political cartoons of Gillray, Cruickshank and Hogarth, and the work of 19th century artists such as William Hone, Dickens, Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham who were in turn influenced by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement.
We also couldn’t ignore the ‘epic’ tradition of the German theatre makers of the Weimar Republic in the 1920’s, specifically, Bertholt Brecht, Erwin Piscator, John Heartfield and Ernst Toller. And inspired by these artists the impressionistic, mythical and historicised, Land Of Do What You Are Told, is an attempt to make explicit the similarities between the political struggles of today and those of the past 200 years.
It will also become clear to any reader that the narrative structure of the play is a taken from The Wizard Of Oz, which is itself referencing the traditional narrative form of the ‘heroic journey’, as exemplified by Homer’s, Iliad. But this reference to The Wizard Of Oz, isn’t just technical, it’s also a statement of our primary commitment to create a show that entertains the audience. So while we hope teachers, lectures and students get a lot out of the play in terms of ideas and information, above all we hope you have a good time watching, reading, studying and performing the play.
In 2014 The Liberty Tree was one of the winners of the Script6 national playwriting competition run by The Space theatre in London and was subsequently produced in May/June 2015 in a co-production between Public Domain and Bath Spa University.
The play is now being developed as a teaching resource for secondary schools, Sixth Forms, FE Colleges and Universities.