Review: Max Gillies, Godzone

by Guy Rundle and Max Gillies, dir Aidan Fennessy, with Max Gillies.
Seymour Centre, Sydney: 23 February – 6 March (Tue 6.30pm, Wed-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm and 8pm)
Riverside Theatre, Parramatta: 10 – 13 March, 8pm (except for 11 March 6.30pm only, and 13 March matinee performance at 2pm) Phone: 02 9351 7940

Politics is the new religion – or vice versa.

Coming to Sydney after a strong season in Melbourne, it was an opening night fitting for a legend of Oz political satire – political, literary, media and performance luminaries rubbed shoulders with journos galore in such numbers that one of the earliest jibes was at the expense of anyone who’d actually paid for a ticket. The show’s conceit is that of a conference a la the 2020 Summit on the rising influence of religion on Australian politics, although religion got off pretty easily due to overriding satirical distractions.

As one would expect, the makeup for each personality was superbly detailed caricature. However, most of the political figures being satirised are so micromanaged compared to past larger-than-life personalities who have been under the Gillies/Rundle microscope, and Australian politics has become such blandly bureaucratic proceedings, that it just seems that there is something missing in the source material. Where once Canberra was rough and tumble cut and thrust polemics, the public debate has become a bunfight, and satire suffers for it unless the audience really knows their politics.

By far the two most colourful parodies on stage are of Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Bolt, who are pundits rather than politicians (likewise Gerard Henderson on the screen over the stage used during Gillies’ quick changes). Perhaps conservatives are easier for Rundle/Gillies to skewer without compunction? The funniest thing about Rudd is his convoluted obfuscation-speak and mangled fair-dinkum slang, and Rundle captures these beautifully in the script, but the parody is almost too good and ends up bloodless. The Julia Gillard impersonation was visually impressive, but although the script and performance captured her wryness it failed to display her acute sense of mischief, which I missed.

As befits the politician who seems most committed to being a one-man stimulus program for the comedic fodder industry, the lipsmacking Tony Abbott parody looked like he was going to slip the leash and savage the audience on several occasions (perhaps with chianti and fava beans to hand?). Although the show was quickly rewritten last year to take account of Abbott’s elevation to Opposition Leader, his best gaffes from the last few months are sadly nowhere referenced, and I for one was expecting a bit more in the way of lycra-justifying, TMI about the Mad Monk’s sex-life and heartlessness about the homeless. Rundle’s recent move to the Northern Hemisphere may have interfered with keeping the script as sharp as possible.

The screen over the stage shows us snippets of Joe Hockey, Barnaby Joyce, Gordon Brown, Gerard Henderson, Noel Pearson, Malcolm Turnbull, Steve Fielding and John Howard during the makeup changes, plus PowerPoint summaries and evangelical adverts for the GodZone talking points, which are possibly the most successful parts of the show. I particularly enjoyed Barnaby as frenzied used-policy salesman in the car-yard, Hendo as the shadowy mastermind of a conspiratorial cabal and Talcum attempting to carve out a new relevance for himself in Australian public life.

Despite the reservations above, this is a rare chance to capture a legend of political satire live on stage, and it’s an enjoyable night out.

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