While some home-made Aussie shows perhaps shouldn’t be exported, this one simply couldn’t be. There is far too much - albeit glorious – Oz-specific reference to the remarkable Keating years in Australian politics, that anyone else simply wouldn’t get. But the show is so strong for the home audience that it is revelling in its third year and second transmogrification, and another major national tour. And audiences are flocking to it, and loving it!
The show, by Casey Bennetto and expertly directed by Neil Armfield, is a musical pastiche and self-confessed satire on musical theatre forms, which suits cabaret and theatre setting equally. Its appeal lies not only in the subject matter, which True Believers, Keating sceptics and Howard haters alike lap up, but also in the clever lyrics, real rhymes and lively tunes which this fine cast and band dish up with considerable élan.
From the moment the band started with its pre-show tune and audience warm-up, it was clear that this was going to be a fine professional performance. The band (Alon Ilsar, Eden Ottignon, Enio Pozzebon, Matthew Stuart and Mick Stuart) take their rightful place centre stage, from where they not only provide the driving and sensitive accompaniment to the songs, but double as the chorus, intrinsically involved throughout, and providing great cameo performances as some of the passing notables of the era.
Front and centre, the limelight belongs to Mike McLeish in the title role. He has nurtured this part from its beginning into a very slick, energetic, and at times passionate performance. He conveyed the hurt at being dudded by Hawke as convincingly as he conveyed the hubris of “the sweetest victory of all”. He has a fine voice, good looks and an athletic presence, and played the smooth, be-suited, clock collecting arrogance of the man very well. But his somewhat limited range of gestures became repetitive. However hard he may have tried, John Travolta he is not.
An excellent foil to McLeish’s Keating was provided by Terry Serio, first as the flamboyant and larrikinesque Hawke, and later with almost eerie evocativeness, as a brilliant send-up of John Howard. He is masterfully helped in this portrayal by the stuck-on costumerie of Jennifer Irwin as he - almost pathetically in retrospect - flaunts various election-seducing outfits.
Other fine recollections of familiar figures include Brendan Coustley’s Alexander Downer in an over-the-top high camp prance in fish-nets,high heels and corsetry. But perhaps we could have done without the mooning of some unfortunate members of the audience in close-up.
All in all, this is a very clever, very professional, very funny and lots-of-fun show. As the musical we had to have, Keating! takes some beating.
Company B and Adelaide Festival Centre's Australian Stories program
present a Company B Production
by Casey Bennetto
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre
When: 3 - 5, 9 - 12, 16 - 19 April @ 8pm
5, 12 & 16 April @ 2pm
6 & 13 April @ 5pm
8 & 15 April @ 6.30pm
Cost: Premium $55, Adult $50, Conc $45,
Season Pass (4+ AFC Presents Shows) $45/$40,
Groups (6+) $45
Bookings: BASS on 131 246 or online at www.bass.net.au