Saturday, February 25, 2023



5 Mistakes That Changed History. 

Presented by Paul Coulter The Bally. Gluttony. Adelaide Fringe February 17-26 2023.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Paul Coulter could be the kind of history teacher that every child would love to have, His passion for history is boundless. In 5 Mistakes That Changed History, he excites an interest in five historical events that he claims changed history because of a mistake, an error in judgement or an unintended action. With the enthusiasm of a child opening a birthday present and the energy of a sports competitor he launches into the impact that five historical figures had on the world. In the age old tradition of storytelling, he holds his audience spellbound as he recounts the stories of microbiologist Alexander Fleming who invented with Adelaide’s own Howard Florey Penicillin, Stanley Philip Lord, captain of the SS Californian at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, Cleopatra, the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs, Richard the Lionheart and Mary Reibey, whose image features on the $20 note. Each of these historical personages was responsible directly or indirectly in initiating dramatic events in history. .

Combining stand-up comedy with carefully researched and fascinating historical fact, Coulter explains how Fleming inadvertently left mould to grow on his petri dish and later observed how it attacked the bacteria. He informs the audience that Stanley Philip Lord told his crew to sleep and ignored the distress signals from the Titanic because he was so tired. Love was indeed blind for Cleopatra whose passion for Marc Antony led to her defeat and loss of the Egyptian throne. Richard the Lionheart’s gallivantings through the Crusades and squandering of England’s treasury led to the implementation of the Magna Carta and convicted horse stealer and transported convict Mary Reibey eventually introduced banking to the new colony. Coulter’s outstanding storytelling is completely believable, and the curious among his audience should be instantly inspired to fact check on Wikipedia. What I would guarantee is that after his animated and engaging performance the young lad in the front row will never forget the five characters  or the mistakes they made that turned the tide of history in different ways. Like Coulter, he is very likely to study an undergrad degree majoring in history.

At the end of each story an actor appears in character to bring to life the subject of each history. Raphael Stephens plays the messy Fleming, the sleepy Lord and the pompous Richard, while Bec Melrose enacts an arrogant Caesar and a grumpy Mary Reibey. These are closing captions to Coulter’s storytelling, but highly caricatured and fleetingly presented. I couldn’t help feeling that this was an unnecessary add on to Coulter’s effective performance. If intended to inject a theatrical impact then it might have been better to incorporate greater interaction between storyteller and character and with a more carefully written script. Stephens and Melrose played for laughs but it appeared too much like an improvised moment than a carefully developed idea. After all Coulter’s historical personages were not fools and not all accidental mistakes are foolish.

5 Mistakes That Changed History is a show that intrigues, fascinates and educates. History rhymes with mystery and there are many truths that lie hidden inviting investigation and deduction. Coulter’s enthusiasm is contagious and the audience who hung on every word are very likely to regard historical fact with more scrutiny after a most illuminating and entertaining hour under the Bally’s domed roof. Coulter significantly concludes with a moral as every good story does and what better than the words of one of history’s greatest enigmas. The words of Winston Churchill bring this entertaining show to a close. “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” It is advice tha the young boy in the front row will never forget.