The Annual Report

(Gardens Theatre)


Written and performed by Rod Quantock

Arts Council Tour

Professional production

There’s something about the old-style Melbourne Loony Left that is enduringly endearing. Think Barry Dickens and his ilk, and older readers will know just what I mean.

Rod Quantock has always been a leading light (or cess-pit, according to your political and aesthetic point of view) in Australian comedy – remember Australia, You’re Standing In It on the ABC back in the ’80s? He’s kept his career going for decades longer than any of his contemporaries except Barry Humphries, which proves something about (a) the ongoing relevance of his satirical targets and (b) his uncanny ability to latch onto the current zeitgeist, as the full house at his one-night show at the Gardens Theatre proved.

In spite of the crude language, the deliberate defiance of political correctness, the simplicity of his arguments and the soft targets of his anger, the show is much more structured and clever than it seems on the surface. There’s no point in my relaying any of the jokes, because it’s one of those shows where you really did have to be there, but the way he wove a few key objects and ideas through what seemed on the surface to be an eclectic ramble was breath-takingly funny, and an object lesson for young comedians who want to learn some tricks of the trade.

His microphone stand is a case in point. For a full ten minutes we get its provenance, its connexion with young Rod and the part it played in his life journey, its versatility and adaptability. Then, somehow, it performs with an audience member and is put into her tender care, and we forget all about it until it becomes the instrument of John Howard’s downfall at the end of the show, as Our Beloved Leader comes on as a matchbox and … well, as I said earlier, you just had to be there.

Quantock is a cult figure mainly for the Baby Boomers, as we haven’t seen him much on television for a couple of decades, except in those appalling ads for Capt’n Snooze beds. A large percentage of the audience was greying and thickening around the waist, and he makes no attempt to hide this fact, or that he is on an Arts Council “regional tour”, in which Brisbane is the only capital city. Other destinations are Albany in WA, Portland in Victoria, Narrabri in NSW, and the Pilbeam Theatre in Rockie – hardly high-status venues, but he weaves the joke into his narrative until we begin to feel sorry for the other big cities that didn’t get to see him.

He works the audience beautifully, with no over-the-top humiliation like Dame Edna’s, although he does make a running joke about people who arrive late, and when a heavily pregnant woman sneaked in the back ten minutes late, engaged her in cheerful conversation with her about the reason, which turned out to be the old “three children at home with the baby-sitter” excuse. But that was it, and she was left to enjoy the show in peace, although sneaky references to large families did make their appearance along the way.

In spite of the humour, Quantock is an angry man who lets it all hang out. No subtle disguising of his subjects here – Howard, Vanstone and Ruddock are people he seriously hates, and he goes for them with both barrels. It’s not the genial humour of The Glass House team, and some of the audience were a little discomforted, because political humour has softened in the years since Quantock’s career began. And in some cases he cut very close to the bone, so that if the Thought Police had been around, they would have taken his tongue-in-cheek anti-Arab rhetoric seriously – as did many of the audience, until they read between the lines and saw his point.

On the surface it seems blatant and as lacking in subtlety as a parliamentary debate, but that’s the glory of it, because it’s deeply intellectual, and it takes clever people or ex-Melburnians (which are not necessarily mutually-exclusive groups) to work out the double- and triple-entendres. It’s not for a Good News Week audience, but appeals to people who would enjoy John Clarke and Brian Dawe even more if they went feral.

Quantock is The Chaser team growing old disgracefully; an obsessively party-political Roy and HG; a grown-up Paul McDermott without the nasty edge. The Annual Report is for True Believers only, especially those whose political passions are not yet spent, and who have maintained the rage for thirty years and more. But nobody can do this kind of partisan humour better than Rod Quantock, and it proves one thing at least – that Australia, in spite of current evidence to the contrary, is still a free society, because in the US he’d immediately be locked up in Guantanamo Bay, and in China he’d be taken out and shot. That’s how good he is.

Directed by Rod Quantock

Played 29 August 2006

Duration : 75 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Mon 28th August 2006)