The Big Con

(Powerhouse Theatre)

April-June 2005

As You Like It



The Big Con


Closer to Heaven

Creche and Burn

Death of a Salesman

The Drowning Bride

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

The Importance of Being Earnest

La boheme


Mano Nero

Much Ado About Nothing

Nothing but the Truth

One by One


Stillwater Reflections

The Tempest

Under Milk Wood

Vincent in Brixton

Who’s Afraid of the Working Class?


A Thousand and One Nights


Piers Lane/Christopher Wrench

Strike Up the Chorus


By Guy Rundle

Performed by Max Gillies and Eddie Perfect

Professional production

What hope is there for a society in which freedom is a brand of furniture and liberty is a tampon?

That’s Guy Rundle’s question, which underlies this Big Night Out on the Right Side, aka Centre for Independent Analysis (think about the initials), starring the great culture heroes of our time Alan Jones, Alexander Downer, Philip Ruddock, George Dubya, Amanda Vanstone (fresh from the All-You-Can-Eat–Trough-of-Prawns Night) and, of course, our very own Little Johnny Howard. Oh yes, the country’s in the very best of hands. < BR>
There’s something here to offend everyone, especially fundamentalist Christians, Liberal voters, staunch Roman Catholics, the Family First party and even those who still shed “outdated socialist crocodile tears”, for everyone is grist to Guy Rundle’s savage political mill, and although (to mix a metaphor or two) this show bowls with an explicitly left-hand bias, not even the Chardonnay socialists are exempt as he hits the jack every time.

Yes, we can laugh as Max Gillies, staggering along with his improbable hips as the Minister for Immigration, presents her as the saviour of personkind and suffers the little children to come unto her and Amandatory Detention, but there are darker undertones in this show than in any of the previous Gillies/Rundle collaborations. It’s not easy to laugh wholeheartedly when Philip Ruddock declares that Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks “infiltrated this country at birth”, or when we are encouraged to party until the petrol runs out although Tony Abbott in a full monk’s habit is very funny as he admits having been the back end of a pantomime horse with George Pell. But let’s not go there.

On the night that I went, the audience were less than unreserved in their reception of the show, reacting with gasps of shocked recognition rather than guffaws of delight.

Perhaps it’s because the political world, both nationally and internationally, is much darker than it was at the time of the last show this brilliant duo dreamed up four years ago, You’re Dreaming: the Prime Minister’s Cultural Convention. Perhaps the left-leaning audience (you had to be, or you wouldn’t have paid out $32 to see the Right being given a right going-over) feel that, now the federal government has control of both houses of parliament, it really all has been a big con, and that this show is too true to be funny. And perhaps it’s the realisation that George Dubya’s gobbledy-gook has been the cause of an international disaster, rather than just the ravings of a harmless Texan loony, that makes him less of a joke than he used to be, lame duck president or not.

Whatever the reason, it’s an uncomfortable night at the theatre, but maybe that’s all to the good. Successful satire has to have a sharp edge, otherwise it just becomes affectionate and accepting, and the targets don’t seem as threatening. And for this audience at least, the characters presented are no joke. BR>
Max Gillies’ impersonations are so good, and his intonations and gestures so finely honed, that you forget that his face never really changes, in spite of Nic Dorning and Paul Hasel’s amazing prosthetics. He creates the idea of a person rather than a simple rubbery figure, and although his Tony Blair isn’t as convincing as the one in the BBC’s Spitting Image, most of his other characters are spot on.

It’s not easy work for the audience, though, and maybe that’s another reason why the reaction was relatively subdued. You have to have a good grasp of political history and a long memory to appreciate some of the segments fully how many people are still on top of Keith Windschuttle and the History Wars, except perhaps ABC devotees?

But it’s a brilliantly scary show, and the songs of Eddie Perfect (not dressed in Collingwood colours, I’m glad to say) give it an additional youthful appeal along with a finely-balanced scatological approach that teeters just on the edge of libel. I hope they ran the text past their lawyers!

Directed by Aubrey Mellor and Denis Moore, music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect

Playing until Saturday 2 July (Friday 7.30pm, Saturday 2pm, 7.30pm)

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Tue 28th June 2005)