By and with Jonathan Biggins. State Theatre Company of SA with Adina Apartments and Soft Tread Productions. Dunstan Playhouse. 20 Apr 2021
What a canny, cunning piece of theatrical Australiana. Writer and performer Jonathan Biggins developed his Paul Keating take-off as skits in the brilliant Sydney Wharf Revue which far too occasionally has made its way to Adelaide.
Now here comes his Keating, from revue vignette to fully-formed character.
Once upon a time, Paul Keating strode the political landscape, a truly interesting politician, witty and perceptive, an autodidactic polymath. Looking at that stylish man, it was hard to believe that he left school at 14. Until he told us, of course. He was never backward in coming forward,
Now he strides the stage in a very different incarnation but oh, what a tonic for the tired Australian political spirit he is as manifested by our artful satirist. Oh, how we have been needing what this man is giving us at the Dunstan Playhouse. Oh, thank you Mr Biggins for the glorious gusts of laughter, the snide snickers, the nostalgic titters, the gasps of shock, and the reassurance that once there was a fleeting streak of cultural depth in The Lodge.
In case anyone has forgotten, or was not yet born, designer Mark Thompson has reminded audiences of the world of Keating with a positively luscious office stage set, its red-ochre walls laden with gilt-framed Keating iconography, portraits of Napoleon, Cook, even a Gainsborough. And clocks, of course, European polished wood furnishing, a record player, and a white screen for an old-fashioned slide show.
Biggins embodies our former Prime Minister by adopting his stance, his head tilted slightly forward, his torso with an angular stoop. And, of course, he is a picture of upmarket formality in a classic business suit, crisp white shirt and a tie. As he evolves his characterisation, in mind’s eye the resemblance seems to grow and Biggins becomes more Keating than Keating. Except when he doesn’t. The last thing one expects of that dignified politician is that he should break into song and dance routines. But, with a burst of limelight, suddenly he’s Putting On The Ritz. Biggins is quite a mover, as it turns out. And the several musical numbers add an element of unexpected exuberance to the show. It is not to be forgotten that, while we may associate Keating with Mahler, he was a bit of a rock-and-roll entrepreneur in his early days and a zealous Tom Jones fan. Indeed, catholic were his tastes and Biggins weaves among them in an expertly crafted bio show.
Of course, he’s preaching to the choir. The audience is hungrily responsive and, oh, when he lets go at Scomo and the litany of Australian Prime Ministers who came before, the barbs of satiric wit are merciless, and wickedly apposite. It is a superbly scripted production, sometimes profane, sometimes profound, always erudite and stylish, just like Keating.
Its opening night standing ovation is almost not enough. ’Tis a joy of bloody cleverness.
When: 20 Apr to 1 May
Where: Dunstan Playhouse