Written by and starring Jonathan Biggins as the titular Paul, the audience are taken through his upbringing and life in politics, acknowledging his achievements as well as missed opportunities.
What Biggins’ extraordinary performance is not, is a partisan rant (to be sure, for first couple of minutes you’d be forgiven for thinking you hadn’t realised it was stand-up comedy). ‘Paul’ is not preaching to the converted.
The strongest quality in the writing is one of the same ingredients that Keating himself quoted when he spoke about leadership: Imagination.
The Gospel According to Paul serves as a lament for times gone by – not some kind of empty nostalgia for “better times” – but a genuine statement about a loss of empathy, and compassion in too much of today’s political landscape, regardless of who’s in the top job.
The set is a deceptively simple home for Paul: a single room floating on the larger Playhouse stage; beautiful green and brown hues; wooden furniture, with walls adorned with various oil paintings each with their own dedicated lamp; it feels like a parliamentary office diorama.
Biggins has woven material from Keating’s own speeches and other writings throughout the work, helping ground the piece despite it’s fantastical delivery.
Indeed, in a moment still resonating days later, as the piece begins to narrow in on its central thesis, all the various performative hijinks and banter recedes as ‘Paul’ stands still, quoting from Keating’s powerful Redfern Park speech.
There’s a sense of care from Biggins and Director Aarne Neeme, who – having entertained the audience for ninety minutes – ensure you don’t leave with an ear full of anger or excuses.
Instead there’s a smile on your face and the reassurance that this pessimistic trend in politics can still (and should) be fought with optimism, imagination, and courage.
The Gospel According to Paul
Playhouse – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 12 May 2021
Season continues to 23 May 2021
Information and Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au
Image: Jonathan Biggins as Paul Keating – photo by Thomas McCammon
Review: David Collins