Jonathan Biggins’ The Gospel According to Paul invites audiences into the mahogany and maroon of Paul Keating’s inner sanctum for an intimate slideshow with one of our nation’s most polarising and reformist political figures. The Gospel satirises and idolises the former member for Bankstown in equal measure while finely balancing education and entertainment.
Two of Jonathan Biggins’ biggest career achievements are the co-creation of the annual Sydney Theatre Company production, The Wharf Review, where he satirises politicians, and his Helpmann Award for Best Director for Avenue Q; you could say he has a thing for talking puppets. Paul Keating was a politician that existed, nay thrived, before the autocue and the 24/7 news cycle; with his off-the-cuff rhetoric, he was the puppet master, a giant in the Canberra bubble for a quarter of a century.
Biggins’ Keating impersonation, particularly physically, is remarkable. His lip pursing, jowl wobbling, finger pointing, hand rubbing Paul is indistinguishable from the iconic Zegna-wearing PM. Vocally, Biggins’ has mastered the mumble but not quite the raging roar that was most often heard in Question Time.
Biggins, alongside director Aarne Neeme, paid careful regard to the pacing and balance of the performance. The Gospel is loaded with Labor Party history and macroeconomic jargon, but every mention of Sussex Street and dividend imputation is counterbalanced with contemporary gags about ScoMo and UberEats. This is a show, though, that preaches to the converted, to those signed up to the cult of Keating.
Biggins’, with the aid of lighting designer Verity Hampson and sound and video designer David Bergman, disrupts the 85 minutes of monologue with three song and dance numbers. The all-singing, all-dancing Paul Keating has been done before, though, and better in Casey Benetto’s Keating!
While there is perhaps a surplus of material in the show, and there could have been some trimming of the fat, ultimately, at a time where cynicism towards politicians is pervasive, The Gospel According To Paul is a timely reminder of what real leadership looked like.