The Gospel According To Paul – Jonathan Biggins On The Gift Of Paul Keating’s Theatricality

'The Gospel According To Paul' - Image © Brett Boardman
Solar-powered journalist with a love for live reviews and the challenge of describing sounds with words. Always: cooking, often: thrifting, sometimes: playing the piano, rarely: social, never: late. Living abroad in Japan.

33 years ago, Paul Keating was elected as the 24th Prime Minister of Australia. He served a five-year term as leader of the Labor Party – a term of which almost 50 per cent of the current population were not alive to witness.

Even still, one-man comedy performance ‘The Gospel According To Paul’ consistently sells out theatres, three decades on from his premiership. The show was written and is performed by political satire master Jonathan Biggins, who says the ongoing demand for Paul Keating is “simply extraordinary”.

The show will play a number of dates around the country this May/June.

“I think many of us look back on that era and see how much we achieved,” Jonathan explains.

“The ministry was very talented – they were able to change a huge amount of reform. Whether you loathe or love Paul Keating, everybody respects him.”

Keating is most recognised for his charisma, debating skills, and his willingness to confront controversial social norms – such as addressing the impact of colonisation in Australia and enshrining Indigenous land rights.

GospelAccToPaul BrettBoardman2
Image © Brett Boardman

“And that’s why people still respond to him, because not only does he have a colourful turn of phrase – he knows a hell of a lot about what he’s talking about. He’s not afraid to speak his mind, he’s not afraid of being candid, and he is one of the few people who uses his own judgement to decide what he wants to say, instead of being dictated by media advisors or spin doctors.”

Jonathan first began impersonating the former Labor leader in 2017 for Wharf Revue – a performance series satirising media personalities and political events through sketches and songs.

“And as I was doing it, I thought, ‘Wow, you could write a one-man show about him.’ Of all the political figures we’ve had in this country, he’s the most theatrical. On top of that, you’ve got the depth and the power of his thinking on policy, plus a very interesting life he led. There are anecdotes, there are witticisms, and there are put-downs. It’s a gift, really,” Jonathan says.

He spent two years writing the 90-minute show – that process particularly time-consuming due to, A: having lots to condense, and B: having lots to research.

GospelAccToPaul BrettBoardman1
Image © Brett Boardman

“I wanted to include Keating's early life, his upbringing, his getting into politics, his work deregulating the markets, and then the end of his career as well. From there, I threw in a couple of songs, and hey – Bob’s your uncle.”

Audiences who have already witnessed Jonathan in impersonation action can attest to his uncanny ability to transform into the former Prime Minister.

“As I get older, I resemble him more, which helps. Particularly the thinning of the hair,” he laughs.

“It’s practise, really. Somebody suggested getting us both together to present at an arts awards night, and I said: “That will be a big mistake.” When I’m next to him, I don’t look like him and I don’t sound like him. But when I’m performing as him, I can trick the audience into THINKING that I’m the spitting image of him.”

And audiences who haven't seen Jonathan’s poignant depiction of Paul Keating still have the chance to – 'The Gospel According to Paul' is returning to the Australian stage.

“Australians love to laugh at their politicians – we have a long history of being self-deprecating. It’s in our nature, and it probably stems from the way the white settlement began here, and the sense of guilt, and the fact that we were the convicts – the lowest of the low! But the victims, and the outcasts, and the losers, and the runners up – they always have a slightly better sense of humour, I reckon.”

'The Gospel According To Paul' plays Empire Theatre (Toowoomba) 21 May, Redland Performing Arts Centre (Cleveland) 23 May, HOTA (Gold Coast) 25 May, and Sydney Opera House 4-23 June.

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