The audience for “The Big Con” may be limited, but those who like it will find it deeply cathartic. The political mimicry show,from one of Australia’s master impersonators and a new-generation enfant terrible, savages the country’s conservative government, recently returned to power with an increased majority. Playing Sydney before a slot in Michael Kantor’s inaugural season at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theater, veteran Max Gillies and fresh-faced twentysomething Eddie Perfect make a formidable duo.
Gillies impersonates the pols: Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone as a grotesque cabaret performer; Attorney General Phillip Ruddock as a double-speaking ditherer; Health Minister Tony Abbot as, well, a fanatical Catholic abbot. But Gillies saves his best until last, playing Prime Minister John Howard (whom he’s been imitating for over two decades), with every nervous tic and nuance perfected, as a victor incapable of generosity in victory.
Perfect accompanies Gillies on piano but brings much more to the show than that. The rising star of Australian cabaret opens, warbling like an “Australian Idol” wannabe, with “The Biggest Con of All,” a biting summary of the current retrograde social climate in which the population is slaving to service enormous debts and fearful of, well, everything.
Collaboration between directors Aubrey Mellor and Denis Moore, scribe Guy Rundle and the performers is rich, albeit patchy. The video links with Rupert Murdoch don’t work, and the visit from Tony Soprano, at the behest of Dubya, warning Aussies to sign away as much as they can in the Free Trade Negotiations is flat.
Gillies’ willingness to share the stage with upstart Perfect is brave. Problem this creates, however, is that Gillies’ older aud may not warm to Perfect’s oeuvre. “Gay People Shouldn’t Get Married,” a ditty about growing up in a sexually fluid household where lurid sex games are a daily activity, was always going to be a challenge for some.