When I first saw that there was a musical called “Keating!” I avoided it like the plague. Keating had his strong points – namely his mastery of the language. But I feared lame nostagia for this Great Land that Keating was going to build. The same Great Land that we heard almost nothing about before he became PM. The Great Land that he managed to set backward so successfully by losing an election which wasn’t that hard to win. Anyway so many people said it was so good – even a friend who is a card carrying, parliament standing Liberal. So I figured I’d better go – which I did tonight.

At the end of the first half I wasn’t too sure what the point of it was. It’s strictly a musical by which I mean there is no dialogue. So there were some OK songs and Paul K was presented as a pretty smooth pollie who managed to do in the silver bodgie and take power. “Who’s the man – I’m the man” as it said in the song. But so what?

Well I’m still not that sure of what it was about. Eddie Perfect was good as John Hewson in the first half, but he was stratospheric as Alexander Downer in the second half (as my Liberal friend had said he was). Just hilarious and worth the price of the ticket alone. I didn’t know about Eddie till recently when I saw this video and as I think you can see, he is a comic with a flair for danger – that is the best kind of comic.

It’s a great pity there’s nothing I can find from Keating! on YouTube for your delectation or at least of Eddie Perfect’s Alexander Downer.

In any event one of the things I always think when I see politics improvised by our theatrical community is how little feeling they have for politics and how dependent they are on stereotypes. Alexander Downer’s fishnet stocking number was in this category – but then it was so brilliantly funny and outrageous I have no complaints. Then we had Gareth and Cheryl – as two mega dags doing a bit of adultery. And we had John Howard as the quintessential dag singing about how he was bullied at school (I doubt that. I think they’ve got their stereotypes wrong. I expect JWH would have looked after himself perfectly well at school. But who knows, maybe they’ve read his biography. I haven’t.)

Howard is presented as a really horrible character. Now that’s OK as an interpretation. But the psychology of this horribleness was that Howard was a dag at school, is still a dag and has got into power as some compensation for his unattractiveness. He was short and stumbled getting onto the stage. Now as far as being into power is concerned, that’s what all his peers and competitors are into is n’t it? So there’s no story there.

And his daggyness? Well not only have I seen worse sins, but I think there’s something more going on here. If you think about it, if JWH was the bullied nerd who got his revenge on us by getting power over us, then the musical becomes our opportunity to see him for what he really is. What is he really? A dag. And we hate dags don’t we? And what do we do to them – we humiliate them with their inadequacy. It doesn’t matter too much who does it or what they stand for. Whoever bullies the dag stands for our own contempt for them. They’re not really worthy of our respect – not fully human you see because they’re socially awkward. They’re not cool.

So it seems to me that there’s actually a kind of celebration of the bully in this endless making fun of Howard’s daggyness.

I think the point of the show was that Keating was cool. Well yes he was and good on him (at least for that – he gave us some good moments and some great gags).

In the end the show did have a fairly lame and nostalgic view of Keating – the man who, unlike other ambitious deputies no doubt all ill-treated by their boss in various ways (think Al Gore, Peter Costello, Gordon Brown) was prepared to pull his own government apart when he’d done waiting to secure the leadership.

I didn’t greatly mind, and I wasn’t surprised. It was fun, the songs were good.

But I’d hoped for a little more. Perhaps insight, or empathy with some of the characters – Keating, Hewson, Howard, Downer, Hawke – it wouldn’t have mattered. Or excitement. Well we got that from Eddie, but otherwise, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d been led to believe I would. It was packed out and there’s an extended season in Melbourne so go along if you want to check it out.

If you go, for the sake of the world today and of posterity tomorrow, sneak in a cam-corder and get Eddie’s Alexander Downer up on YouTube – but don’t sit too near the front!

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Bill Cushing
Bill Cushing
16 years ago

Saw it on Thursday. Some flat bits, but hilarious overall.

Great band.

‘Who’s the Man’ has had plenty of radio airplay (even on ABC Classic FM). Reggae beat, banana republic … a delight.

Downer had better hope that no-one gets the Eddie Perfect piece on to YouTube.

Not sure, like you, about Howard and bullying. But the gritty determination to win was there. Funny how I started to think about class nerd Kevin and ….

16 years ago

Saw it on Tuesday… I agree with most of your points. The Downer bit was funny but as you say it was such a simplistic (and unfair) caricature of him. There’s a lot more to criticise about Downer than that he once put fishnet stockings on one leg for a charity photo.

The one thing I think they highlighted about Howard that was fair was the calculating way he presents himself – the “digger”, the “man of the land”, the “Aussie sporting fan” etc.

Still, I think it would’ve been stronger with some dialogue breaking up the songs (it was a bit relentless) and a bit more in the way of drama and intrigue and, well, interest…

16 years ago

2006 is merely the year Keating was released to critical acclaim. 2007 is much more important: the year blog-land discovered Keating!

It would have been completely different if it had dialogue and plot, and so on. In a sense it was a shrewd decision of the writers to leave out those bits, and make it essentially a stringing together of comedy songs with some props and stage gags added in to make it a ‘Musical’: allowed them to focus on their strengths. For me, it never worked. The jokes almost ALL fell flat. But the Keating/Hewson rap-battle, which in parts was just a stringing together of Keating insults, was clever.

16 years ago

“The jokes almost ALL fell flat.”

I agree – the audience was laughing at simply recognising quotes. “Ha ha, that’s what he really said!” Bizarre.

16 years ago

Great post, Nicholas.

16 years ago

I saw it at the Seymour Centre and really enjoyed it, although dialogue to break up what was entirely songs would have been good.

Strong points – Keating’s: “I’m the man”, Eddie Perfect’s “Alexander ‘Freaky’ Downer”, and John Howard’s: “the mate mate mate mate mate mate mate mate-ship”. Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot.

Weak points: Bob Hawke, the 1993 election.