Written and performed by Jonathan Biggins, The Gospel According to Paul is a 90-minute exploration into the life and leadership of politician Paul Keating.
Paul Keating was a man known for his wit and ego, but managed to make a huge impact on the landscape of the nation. He was a strong believer in reconciliation and cared deeply about the arts; matters we are still seeing these being debated by our current government. With the issues that Keating stood for have endured, Jonathan will provide a fascinating and humorous introspection into the life of one of Australia’s most fascinating politicians.
Jonathan Biggins is an actor, director, writer, corporate speaker, MC and corporate entertainer based in Sydney. He has played Peter Sellers in Ying Tong, Koko in The Mikado, co-created the Wharf Revue since 2000, written for the Good Weekend for seven years, and directed Australian productions of Avenue Q and Noises Off. He is regarded as one of the country’s most polished corporate performers, and is now bringing his show The Gospel According to Paul to Melbourne.
What inspired you to write The Gospel According To Paul?
Jonathan: I’ve been doing Keating in The Wharf Revue for many years and I had often thought he deserved a longer format, a theatrical biography. My director Aarne Neeme suggested framing it around the notion of leadership, because compared to the focus-group driven feebleness that passes itself off as leadership today, Keating was a giant of the Australian political stage, a man with the imagination and courage to pursue genuine, big-picture reform. Plus, he’s hilarious, a natural vaudevillian with a rich emotional life and an incredibly wide knowledge of art, music and history. Why wouldn’t you write a show about someone like that?
Why do you think people are so fascinated by Paul Keating?
Jonathan: A bloke who left school at fourteen who rose to the highest office in the land, who didn’t really care what anyone thought of him and who did what he said he was going to do. I think love him or loathe him – and he was a very divisive figure – people respected him, and his qualities are missed by people on both sides of the political spectrum.
How have you adapted his life for the stage?
Jonathan: We begin at the beginning and move on from there. The hardest part was condensing it into 90 minutes, so, for example, much of the micro and macro reform of the Hawke/Keating years is done as a song and dance number. There are glimpses of his private life but he never dwells for long; he’s a very private person and it’s just enough to add another emotional dimension to his character. We have sophisticated A/V – a carousel slide projector – that he uses to show family snaps and important moments in history like when he met Tom Jones. Funnily enough, one of the defining moments of his life.
What is something new you learned about Keating while putting the show together?
Jonathan: He genuinely believes Tom Jones to be the greatest single artist of his lifetime. And this is from the man who rates Mahler and Klemperer. I also didn’t know he’d got his pilot’s license and his bus driving license. Nor was I aware of the fact that he’d sat in Jack Lang’s twice a week for seven years learning the veins and the muscles of politics. But not a bad place to learn about power and how to use it.
Why should audiences come and see The Gospel According to Paul?
Jonathan: Well, primarily because it’s brilliant (I’ve been having humility lessons from the great man). But seriously, it is very entertaining and informative. It doesn’t seem to matter if you don’t know much about the history or even if you weren’t alive during his time in Canberra, audiences everywhere have responded so positively to his story and his beliefs about what real leaders do and the personal sacrifices they make.
The Gospel According to Paul runs at Arts Centre Melbourne’s Playhouse from May 11 to May 23.
For tickets and more information, please visit the Arts Centre Melbourne website.