A chilly night at Shakespeare’s Globe marks the beginning of the end of alfresco theatre season. But with a nip in the air, there was anything but a frosty reception for Liberty, the new French Revolution-set piece by Glyn Maxwell.
Based on Antole France’s Les Dieux Ont Soif (The Gods Are Thirsty), Maxwell’s Liberty follows the effect of the French Revolution on a group of six friends, particularly artist Evariste Gamelin.
Opening at a celebratory picnic, where everything and everyone should be carefree and light-hearted, there are foreboding echoes of what might come to pass. Gamelin, given a starkly grounded and serious heart by David Sturzaker, is preparing a rousing speech about the revolution. An idealist, he embraces the dawn of a glorious new era, is eager to fight for what’s right, but is untouched by cynicism. His demise is symptomatic of a doomed government based on fear.
Assisted to a position of magistrate, he is swept away in the torrent of terror that floods the land. His friends receive barely more than a cursory word of warning; his lover, the formerly carefree innocent Eloise Blaise (Ellie Piercy), is reduced to an unthinking, parroting clone.
Maxwell’s story depicts a vicious reign, where no-one is safe on the streets and thugs mete out justice as they see fit. Belinda Lang’s highly strung manipulator Rochemaure utilises her social climbing, perfected in the old regime, to once again make powerful connections, while former Duke Maurice (John Bett) cannot even sell puppets without being harassed and demeaned.
This sense of accountability for past actions from a different time runs through Maxwell’s drama, as does the importance of names to personal identity – when everyone becomes citizen or brother no-one stands out from the easily controlled crowd – and the distinct feeling that terror is no way to govern.
The script, written in verse, feels at home in the Globe; distinctly Shakespearean and entirely accessible. It is littered with lines that stick in the mind, such as the assertion by Gamelin’s friend Philippe Demry (Edward Macliam) about principles: “I got rid of mine and the world turned fascinating”.
Fascinating may be the correct word to describe Liberty, both as an examination of one of history’s most iconic and important periods, and as a character study of a man consumed and destroyed by ideals.