The Gospel According to Paul

SOH The Gospel According to Paul Jonathan Biggins photo by Daniel BoudJonathan Biggins is one of Australia’s master satirists. For more than two decades, he, alongside Drew Forsythe, Phil Scott and others, have entertained Australian audiences with The Wharf Revue.

A cultural institution, The Wharf Revue, satirised media personalities and political events through short sketches and songs, ensuring a noteworthy legacy. One such character, former Prime Minister Paul Keating, became a favourite for Biggins and audiences alike.

Born into an Irish-Catholic, working-class and Labor-voting family, Keating joined the Labor Party as a teenager, quickly honing the political skills that would serve him so well in later life. A career politician from the age of 25, he entered parliament as MP for Blaxland in 1969, rising through the ranks to become Australia’s 24th Prime Minister in 1993.

Written and performed by Jonathan Biggins and with nuanced direction by Aarne Neeme, The Gospel According to Paul explores one of the Labor Party’s most revered and memorable leaders, his landmark political achievements, missed opportunities and personal obsessions.

Keating was one of the great parliamentary performers. Many may remember him for his cutting one-liners delivered from the despatch box. His personality and leadership style have been characterised by a mix of charisma, mystery and complexity

For nearly ninety minutes, Biggins captivates his audience, drawing on historical facts, weaving material from Keating’s own speeches and other musings to present an insightful and at times, a funny portrait of one of the most enigmatic figures in contemporary Australian political life.

With the aid of an ‘old-school’ slide show, keys moments from his childhood and political journey are highlighted and dissected including growing up in Bankstown, his early years in the Labor Youth Council (now Young Labor) and his rise through the ranks of the Labor Party to become Treasurer and Prime Minister.

Along the way, we are given a candid insight into Keating’s relationship with mentor Jack ‘The Big Fella’ Lang, the Whitlam years, the role former Governor-General John Kerr played in the Dismissal, his marriage to flight attendant Annita van Iersel and his subsequent resignation from the Party. Reflecting on the death of his mother evoked a moment of pensive sadness.

Biggins easily manoeuvres between Keating’s social progressiveness – the powerful Redfern speech, his engagement with the arts, including his eclectic taste in music from Mahler to Tom Jones, and his love of clocks, to that of a fiscal conservative – an artfully delivered song about economic policies in the vaudevillian style complete with boater hat and cane.

Providing a defining commentary on the lasting impact Keating has had on the Australian political landscape, Biggins has masterfully weaved a story of Keating’s self affirmation and self reflection with just enough hint of ego and posturing.

The Gospel According to Paul
Playhouse – Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Season continues to 23 June 2024
Information and Bookings:

Image: Jonathan Biggins in The Gospel According to Paul – photo by Daniel Boud

Review: Rohan Shearn