Penned in a burst of creative energy by Casey Bennetto on the eve of the 2005 Melbourne Comedy Festival, “Keating!” is an hourlong, high-energy rock opera that rampages across the last 15 years of Australian politics with wit, unrelenting mirth and an accuracy of flavor, if not facts.
Show begins in 1990 with ex-treasurer Paul Keating taking over the Prime Minster’s office from Bob Hawke. Much is made of the differences between the two Labor Party leaders. Hawke is the everyman, ex-union leader and former Rhodes Scholar who loved rock music. In contrast Keating famously wore Zegna suits, enjoyed listening to Mahler and left school at 15 before making his way onto the front bench not many years later.
What better way to contrast the two than to have them sing a duet? And so it goes though the political ups and downs of the 1990s.
Cheryl Kernot and Gareth Evans also face off in a duet in which they pitifully seek exoneration for their scandalous behavior. Kernot was the married Democrats leader who, at the peak of her power, ankled to join the Labor Party, only for it to be revealed years later that she had been having an affair with Foreign Affairs minister Evans, who was also married.
Current toffy foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer once was photographed wearing a garter and stilettos to promote the Adelaide season of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” That pic has been reprinted hundreds of times since, but Bennetto takes Downer’s misstep farther, having Cam Rogers warble about being misunderstood while wearing the Frank ‘N’ Furter get-up.
A hit at Melbourne Comedy Festival, where its monthlong stand in a 100-seat room sold out by the fifth show, “Keating!” collected all three of the fest’s major prizes and secured a five-day run at the Sydney Opera House.
In its current form, “Keating!” is little more than a series of achingly funny songs, mostly duets, strung together with some choice lines and souped up with flashy costumes.
The 14 songs draw on various musical styles, including reggae, rap, rock and funk, but the terrifically skilled band is fully involved, immersed in the action throughout, performing, singing and skylarking.
Company B topper Neil Armfield has tapped “Keating!” for an extended Sydney season at the Belvoir Street Theater in November, where he plans to re-direct an extended version of the show. The current, joyously raw tour takes in Darwin, Brisbane and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.