State Theatre Company Review: The Gospel According to Paul by Jonathan Biggins

Photo courtesy of Sydney Opera House

Who: State Theatre Company

Where: Dunstan Playhouse

When: 19 April – 1 May 2021

Tickets: Click here

The stage is set in Keating’s study; neoclassical paintings adorn the walls, record-player in the corner, regal wooden furniture and a luxurious armchair in front of a fireplace.  The opening scene has Jonathan Biggins (Keating) standing centre stage, scowl on his face, posture slightly slouched, and hands held behind his back. He immediately begins interaction with the audience, and I feel myself shrinking into my seat in fear of being called upon. Biggins barking at the audience sets the casual conversational tone for the rest of the performance.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Opera House

Biggins brings the legacy of the Keating Prime Ministership back to life after 25 years. His enactment of Keating is simultaneously provocative, entertaining, and humorous. The accuracy in his portrayal of this character is evident by the number of people cackling their heads off at his phrasing, gestures and speech patterns. He invokes a genuine belief in his portrayal, and for the target audience (liberal grandparents and the like) is a wonderful political trip down memory lane.

There is no hiding from the fact that this is an hour and a half of Keating mansplaining his entire life. Aided by a slideshow (old school projector style), he offers no ‘woke’ introspection, merely a history lesson, littered with era appropriate jokes and personal musings punctuated with moments of genuine emotion which reveal an underlying humanity behind his political façade.

Biggins abruptly breaks into musical numbers several times throughout the show (nice vibrato by the way), juxtaposing the serious authenticity of Biggins’ portrayal of Keating and instead highlighting the fictitiousness of it all. Accompanying the song and dance is some fantastic lighting, excellent timing that emphasises the dramatic showcase of the songs. 

As we learn about Keating’s life and his climb to the top job, it was evident how easily opportunities unfold and arise for a white man in Australia during that time. All the various people he mentioned that mentored, supported and worked with were white middle aged men. A crystal clear picture of Australian politics at the time. The only mentions of females were his family figures, wife and a rather scathing drive-by comment about Julia Gillard. This may not be the case today, but it was a reminder of how much we have progressed since then.  

If you have historical  knowledge of Australian politics you’ll understand the references and jokes and this is the show for you. Or if you’re a Keating fan watch this show, Biggins pulls off a convincing character down to the minute mannerisms and accent whilst concurrently making the flaws of portraying Keating transparent.  

4/5 stars

– By Rachel Wong

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