The Liberty Tree

Chris Jury on why he wrote his new play The Liberty Tree, an agitprop musical that aims to be as entertaining as it is political

June 23, 2015
3 min read

liberty-tree“Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”
Berthold Brecht

“The Liberty Tree is ‘effin brilliant! If you haven’t seen it, you better get down to The Cockpit in June or regret it forever!”
UCU trade union activist

The Liberty Tree is an agitprop, political musical playing at The Cockpit, in Marylebone, London, from 24th-27th June, and is a deliberate attempt to use theatre as a tool to bring about progressive political change – but it’s also a romping, hilarious, feel-good antidote to the austerity agenda and a great night-out for anyone sick to death of being over-worked, underpaid and powerless to do anything about it.

I wrote the play as a response to a perceived crisis of political education in the UK. It appears to me that many young people have been told little of the history and character of our social democracy and how we got to be supposedly free citizens in a free country, let alone that it is possible to resist the exploitation they are all too aware they are experiencing in the workplace. And the entire cast and crew are all students and young activists – this is ‘community theatre’ but with a community of young people defined by their common experience of capitalism rather than geography.

Visually the production is inspired by the 18th century political cartoons of Gillray, Cruickshank and Hogarth, and the work of 19th century artists such as Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham, who were in turn influenced by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement.

The show is part of a tradition of British political theatre going back to the Workers Theatre Movement of the 1920s and 30s, the Unity Theatre movement that followed it, and on to the late 1970s ‘agitprop’ movement led by companies such as 7:84, Red Ladder, C.A.S.T, Belt And Braces, North West Spanner and Monstrous Regiment.

The narrative structure of the play is a taken from The Wizard Of Oz, and this is a statement of our primary commitment to put on a piece of political theatre that above all entertains the audience. So while I hope the audience get a lot out of the show in terms of political ideas and information, above all I hope they have a bloody good time. Fingers crossed.

Chris Jury is artistic director of Public Domain Productions and an award-winning actor, writer and director, best known for playing Eric Catchpole in 5 series of BBC antique classic Lovejoy. www.chrisjury.co.uk