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BWW Review: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre

Very funny and thought-provoking, with poignant moments.

BWW Review: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO PAUL  at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre Reviewed by Ewart Shaw, Tuesday 20th April 2021.

Imagination and courage will take you where you want to go. Timing is vital. Being in the right place is vital. Getting yourself to the right place at the right time. Imagination and courage again. And forward planning, lots of forward planning. That's the message of a show you just have to see if you have any care at all about the country.

'Where are you off to tonight?'' "The Gospel According to Paul." "At the Cathedral?" "No, the Playhouse". "Oh, that Paul."

Yes, that Paul, Paul Keating prime minister of Australia. Jonathan Biggins, best known from the Wharf Review, being Keating. It wasn't what I expected. It was so much more. It was brilliantly done as Biggins, and his director Arne Neeme, took you into the heart, or at least the office, of a very clever man. It was very, very funny and thought-provoking, with poignant moments of deep reflection.

Yes, there were the quotes, the parliamentary insults, the patrician disdain for the mediocre, but this is the autobiography Paul Keating wouldn't want to write, but which sums up his genius for management. He's a self-made man, and he did a brilliant job of it.

From a lad from Bankstown to the most stylish Australian PM on the international stage, it's all there. The family photos and the anecdotes of growing up in a working-class suburb, the carefully managed rise through the ranks of the Labor party and his ascent to the highest office is also the history of a crucial time in Australia's life. He's the man who handed Whitlam the megaphone for that "Well may we say God save the Queen, because nothing will save the Governor-General" speech. He's the man who freed the economy, giving Australia 29 years of security. He said it, I believe him.

As you take your seat, there's classical music playing. It's the great baroque genius of French music, Rameau. Then the Kaurna acknowledgment. It's a hint of what's to come. Then two dramatic chords, courtesy of Mozart. Lights up, and there he is, expertly suited and situated. The elegant office furniture, two French carriage clocks on the mantelpiece, courtesy of Mark Thomson. Is that a painting of the young Napoleon? Is that Benjamin Franklin?

Biggins wrote the show, and he's touring it. It's full of the insights and insults of decades of Australian politicians and political life. There are candid reflections on Hawke and the rest. He brings on a slide projector to show the heroes and villains of Australian administration. Biggins barely has to reflect on the collapse of the country's political culture, we get the message. The government is in the hands of fools.

There's a moment, among so many, that stays clear. Early in his working life, Keating spent three months' salary on a Breguet pocket watch, a masterpiece of French horological technology. Biggins reaches into his pocket and produces the very watch, a touchstone of the authenticity of his portrait.

An audience studded with retired politicians, former broadcasters, members of our theatrical pantheon, chuckled, giggled, gasped, and applauded Biggins's virtuosity.

So what did the millennials make of it, the young people up from Yankallila and Myponga? Did they know who Khemlani was, and how important that Indian financier was? Al Grasby? Al Who?

The rest of us saw our political history brought down to the personal experience of a man who was not only there, but made so much of it happen.

The music at the end, the last music he would want to hear, is Mahler, The Resurrection Symphony, A soufflé might not rise twice, but music will raise you up. Then a blackout and, before the rapturous applause, he's back, singing that old Sinatra number, That's Life, (riding high in April, shot down in May, etc). "Tutto nel mondo e burl", as Falstaff would have said. It's all a joke, but behind the public performances, Keating's and Biggins's, are rock-solid truths about democracy, and the importance of imagination and courage.

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