‘The Gospel According to Paul’ was divine.
Uproariously funny, laugh out loud, poignant, and fuelled by Paul Keating’s best one-liners, ‘The Gospel According to Paul’ is a powerhouse one-man show written by, and starring, Jonathan Biggins.
By the 10-minute mark of the show, Biggins has the audience eating out of his hands. It wasn’t a laugh a minute – it was more like three laughs per minute.
Biggins’ acting is superb – it’s not mimicry, since it feels so authentic to the script, but there are moments when you simply wonder if he has captured the essence of Paul Keating more than Keating himself.
There are certainly moments in the show where it is advantageous to be a political junkie with a strong knowledge of Australian political history. ‘The Gospel According to Paul’ explores Keating’s early years in politics and his involvement in the Whitlam Government. This background of Labor’s 23 years in the political wilderness before the election of the Whitlam Government is crucial to understand Keating as a political operator. Because these moments had such a profound effect on Keating, they couldn’t be skipped over. If you didn’t know who some of the politicians of the time were, you may miss some of the jokes about characters such as Jim Cairns or Al Grassby.
But this is not a history lesson, nor does it pretend to be. It is far more than that. It is first-class entertainment, full of comedy, put-downs, a larger-than-life personality, and a deliberate effort to connect Keating’s story to contemporary Australia.
One of the inventive ways in which the show addresses the complexities of the issues faced by Keating is through an occasional musical number. One Vaudeville-style song, for instance, covers the deregulation and devaluation of the Australian dollar and the deregulation of the banking industry (along with other important economic decisions) in a way that is funny and entertaining, so it completely avoids the danger of losing the audience. Simple dancing and creative use of a can also add to the comedic flavour.
It is not all humour, however. Keating’s loss of family members and his relationship with his wife are also raised in a way that is touching and powerful.
Aarne Neeme’s direction is excellent. The show is fast-paced and the simple setting, adorned with a desk and many paintings of classical composers, seems to perfectly capture the image of Keating portrayed in the script. The use of an old-style overhead projector in telling the stories, and underlining the historical periods they occurred in, was clever and apt. Similarly, the use of an LP player for the music of the time also works in terms of staging the sound design.
At the end of this tour de force performance, the audience went wild. Returning to the stage after the initial bows, Biggins was met with a standing ovation. It was not surprising. ‘The Gospel According to Paul’ brought new life to a dense historical narrative and gave audiences a fantastic night out at the theatre.
The Gospel According to Paul performs until Sunday, 24 October 2021 at the Playhouse, QPAC. For more information visit QPAC’s website. Best seating availability is for Sunday, 24 October 2021.
Photography Brett Boardman