Keating! The Musical

QPAC Playhouse (Company B)


This is terrific fun. It rattles along with the driving beat of a rock band through the roller-coaster ride that was Paul Keating’s rise and fall in the power stakes of Australia .

Mike McLeish plays Keating superbly — the lean, elegant, brooding presence that was synonymous with the Placido Domingo of Australian Politics.

The secret deal with former Prime Minister Bob Hawke at Kirribilli House forms a background for Keating’s assault on the top job. Bob Hawke is played artfully by Terry Scerio who later undergoes a remarkable translation into the chilling figure of John Howard.

The music has at times an edge of reggae – e.g. “Mabo”, an occasional country and western twang and maybe even an element of hip-hop (“Who the man? You the man!”). The unpredictability of political life is echoed in the musical variety

For political junkies like your reviewer who lived through this period the story bristles with the big issues of the day.

Keating is idealised while Hawke, Hewson, Downer and Howard are lampooned; but whoever said musicals were meant to be fair?

For students of parliamentary mortal combat, there is no better moment than Keating’s famous riposte to then Opposition Leader John Hewson’s question as to why Keating would not call an early election :”I want to do you slowly”. This eviscerating answer is given with full Keating-esque gusto. It is hard for many to remember 1993 when Hewson lost the unlosable election, but Brendan Coustley’s performance of Hewson in parliamentary battle with Keating makes for an unusual pas de deux.

Coustley shows his versatility a little later when, dressed in fishnet stockings and tights, he gives us a racy Alexander Downer to remember. The Adelaide Hills will never be the same.

Sometimes it takes the simplicity of song to grasp the true dynamic of the political process. Casey Bennetto shines as a wordsmith and composer. His love duet between Gareth Evans and Cheryl Kernot is a wicked treat.

This production is an irreverent, irrepressible romp through the political landscape. It captures the spirit of its subject matter.

The music may be a long way from Mahler, but this is truly the musical we had to have.

Music and Lyrics by Casey Bennetto.
Directed by: Neil Armfield
Playing: 23 April to 10 May 2008
Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes — one interval 25 minutes

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Wed 23rd April 2008)