If timing is all, then there certainly couldn’t be a better time than now to see Your Dreaming, with the very artful Max Gillies imitating the real life of clichés, pontifications and rambling “explanations” that are swirling around what he calls the Sta-yan Nation, as it tries to grapple simultaneously with the quite different sets of he-did-he-didn’ts-and-what’s-been-hidden issues of Tampa and the G-G. Particularly since the beginning and end of this show feature the prime factor, sorry, prime minister, who is the common (some might say very common) element that links the two. And if you find the previous sentence disturbingly irreverent, this may not be the show for you.
Gillies and playwright Guy Rundle make no bones about the fact that their humour is drawn from a political perspective that has variously been labelled, in very recent times, as the chattering classes, the chardonnay elite and other such sobriquets as may be pinned onto small-l liberal literates, of whatever political persuasion. Which is not to say that some of the most distinguished members of that group escape a ribbing. Most brilliantly, it has to be said, in the figure of Bob Ellis. If this hadn’t been billed as strictly a one-man show, you would have no problem in believing that Ellis had been persuaded to stand up and take the micky out of himself.
But Ellis is only one of a series of remarkable characterisations that Gillies has assembled with the able assistance of wigmaker and make-up artist Laura Morris, and special prosthetics effects creator Nik Dorning. With one exception, the visuals provide an eerily effective context for Gillies’ astute, acute but never cute takes, on the personas he takes on. The exception is John Howard’s lip as seen on the video clips that were used, and so depending on when they were made may well have been the work of somebody else. I have no problem with a bit of Donald Duckery in that department, but it was a case where a bit less would have been more in keeping with the subtler emphasis of defining features used on each of the other individuals selected as targets.
And those who were chosen form a very select group. To be included you’d have to have contributed something to Australia’s post-war culture or history in some way, either as an icon or an embarrassment, or both; and you need to have been able to stay the distance, from your time in the limelight up until now. I’m not going to list all the luminaries who made the cut, because one of the pleasures of this production is the surprise of seeing who is next in the steady stream of whom Gillies does, and how. What I can reveal is the stunning lack of a Queensland presence. With Joh having faded into obscurity, the only one to rate a mention and appropriately in view of the title of the show is Henry Reynolds. So there is a sense in which we’re being spun around the Melbourne-Sydney axis (with a manic side-swipe that takes in Adelaide). But almost all of the figures have well and truly made it onto the national stage, either as local identities or as expatriates. And if we’re talking about expatriates, I do have to say that Gillies does a simply wicked Germaine Greer.
Knowing that Gillies would need some time to change into gear for each character, I wondered, at the outset, what would happen in the dead time in between. In repatriated director Aubrey Mellor’s production, this proved to be very undead, with a smooth series of clever linking video segments featuring exclusively pre-recorded Gillies in a rich variety of guises.
There is also an excellent set of images projected onto a screen to complement each of the staged characters. Some of these are of Aboriginal paintings, to back up the title of the show, but Your Dreaming has more than one meaning, and each of them is exposed in a show that rests on the shoulders of one man for two and a half hours including interval. Over that time, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were some comedic misses among the hits. But the misses are remarkably few and tend to be the result of being almost too close to the target to be funny.
Overall, Gillies brings you to your knees with laughter at the abyss of Australia’s most public inadequacies and foibles, while encouraging you to look deep down into it. It all adds up to a thought-provoking experience.