Written and performed by Jonathan Biggins
Directed by Aarne Neeme
Produced by Soft Tread
The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre to 31 March
Reviewed by Len Power 26 March 2019
Anyone who attends the annual productions of ‘The Wharf Revue’ will be familiar with Jonathan Biggins’ hilarious performances as Paul Keating. Those were only short monologues and the big question with ‘The Gospel According To Paul’ is whether Biggins can pull off playing Keating in a one-man show for the whole evening. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’!
Hollywood producer, Samuel Goldwyn, was reputed to have said, ‘No-one should write their autobiography until they are dead’. Jonathan Biggins’ play – a trawl through Keating’s early life and political career - becomes autobiography with Biggins’ startlingly clever impression of the man himself in a constantly sustained marathon 90 minute non-stop performance.
Nicely designed by Mark Thompson, the living room set is filled with the art, photographs and tasteful objects that we like to imagine the educated and worldly Paul Keating would surround himself with. We find Keating in a reflective mood but there’s an edge to his personality that warns us to be ready for anything.
His story is a fascinating one, starting with his formative years in Bankstown with his family and his early career as a music group manager. When he moved into politics, he became part of an era of great change which many of us remember very well. He reminds us of the many personalities who were part of that change with his devastating assessments of these people’s strengths and weaknesses and his relations with them. His opinions on each of the Prime Ministers with whom he was associated and on those who came after him are particularly amusing. Keating’s political life is the focus in this play, not his personal life.
Nicely directed by Aarne Neeme, the one man show is carefully paced and staged with some vaudeville-like musical moments that work very well. Although played for 90 minutes without a break, it was constantly entertaining.
Jonathan Biggins has triumphed in both writing and performance with this play. It’s funny, informative and, for many of us, highly nostalgic. We are left with a picture of Keating with all the contradictions and complexities that he displayed during his political life and he remains a fascinating and enigmatic character. I wonder what the real Paul Keating would make of it?
Photos by Brett Boardman
Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on the Artsound FM 92.7 ‘In the Foyer’ program on Mondays and Wednesdays at 3.30pm.