The Gospel According to Paul (Soft Tread)
QPAC, The Playhouse
October 20 – 24
Politics have taken over the QPAC Playhouse this week with “The Gospel According to Paul”, Jonathan Biggins’ ‘three-dimensional, unauthorised autobiography of Paul Keating’, upgraded from its previous 2019 Cremorne Theatre run, which sold out before the season had even begun, such is the demand of audience members eager to be entertained with the wit and wisdom the comes from 50 years of public life.
Satirist Jonathan Biggins has been play Paul Keating for a long time, beginning in the long-running Sydney Theatre Company success story, “The Wharf Revue” so his impression of the 24th Prime Minister of Australia is, of course, impeccable, down to the on-point timing of his many one liners. And thanks to them, we are laughing from the outset in his attempts to engage empathetically with the audience stand-up comedian style and then his quippy commentary upon the dismal record of the last 14 years.
Moving through mockery of modern day ‘man of the people’ politicians more concerned with their Instagram likeability than doing what needs to be done, we are taken through his history lesson about what strong leadership actually looks like and the imagination and courage at its core. In a space staged to represent the former Prime Minister’s formal office of cultured, beautiful things, projections help bring the story of Keating’s political career to life. Humour comes easily, often courtesy of Biggins’ conveyance of his subject’s ego and subsequently profane inability to suffer fools easily. There is nowhere to hide in this solo show and for 90 minutes, Biggins is Keating, drawing us into the reality being presented through the smallest of details such as vocal inflection, body language and movement. And the result is spontaneous applause for both his ridicule of political rivals and the pathos that comes from his reflection of his legacies, such as enactment of the Native Title Act to enshrine indigenous land rights. Indeed, the authority with which he delivers a section of his landmark Redfern speech represents an unexpectedly-moving moment.
Light and shade makes for what is perhaps a surprising monologue journey, a credit to Biggins, who also wrote the show. Along with taking us through his rise from the New South Wales Labour Youth Council to Australian Labour Party, eight years as Treasurer and then also Deputy Prime Minister of the country before serving as Prime Minster 1991 to 1996, he talks us through his powerful political partnership with brother-in-arms Bob Hawke and the good stuff about the now-not-so-secret Kirribilli agreement that ended up fracturing their union. Yet, things are never dry thanks to Director Aarne Neeme’s pacey direction, as the audience is taken, for example, from Keating’s brief recall of marriage to flight attendant Annita, through to hilarious recall of the unrepresentative swill of the senate and then back to melancholic memories around the loss of his parents. And all of this is after his all-in musical gush about the greatest artist of his lifetime, Tom Jones.
With its talk of biographical milestones, landmark political achievements and personal obsessions, a lot of the show’s content remains unchanged over time, however, while the work is back in Brisbane for a repeat showing, things aren’t always exactly as they have been before, courtesy of mentions of TikTok, the cross river rail link and alike. Regardless, however, Biggins’ idiosyncratic performance is of such precision, that the “The Gospel According to Paul” is a show that can easily been seen again and again, if only to better be able to wade through its many witty quips and wise observations, many of which are now just as relevant as ever given the COVID-inflicted economic downturn’s similarity with the 1990s ‘recession we had to have’ at his hand.
Photos c/o – Brett Boardman