The producers of The Dismissal requested no reviews of this short try-out season.
So please don’t consider this to be one.
But after seeing what I think is the best Australian musical of the century so far – evident even in this suck-it-and-see staging in the Seymour Centre’s York Theatre – it’s hard not to respond.
No star rating then. No in-depth critique.
Just the feels.
In short, this hugely appealing work of musical-political theatre feels like a hit. Like the award-wining Keating!, The Dismissal has the potential to play nationwide.
And like Muriel’s Wedding, the only recent Australian-made musical that can hold a candle to it, The Dismissal touches a nerve.
The shows are thematic cousins, in a way. Each depicts the tension in the Australian soul: indolence, self-satisfaction and conservatism on the one side; optimism, irreverence and openness on the other.
The book (Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody) sparkles with meta-theatrical humour, chuckling at the conventions of the genre as much as the political figures it skewers. Beneath that, the script bears the stamp of a politics wonk (Erickson used to work for the Australian Republican Movement).
This isn’t a review, so I won’t comment on the performances – save to say that they are terrific – but I will say that the crowd response to the show is something I haven’t seen since Keating!, way back in 2005/6.
The Dismissal raises hackles as well as laughter.
Andrew Cutcliffe’s preening Malcolm Fraser actually elicits hisses. Justin Smith’s pinpoint Gough Whitlam brings on the tingles, even though the show presents him as a towering bastion of privilege and entitlement.
The Dismissal gives us a surprisingly touching portrait of Sir John Kerr (warmly played by Marney McQueen), depicted here as a man seduced by the trappings of high office and goaded into action by Anne Kerr, the “Lady Macbeth of Yarralumla”.
The show abounds with rich second-tier roles, too: Sir Garfield Barwick (presented here as a gargoyle figure straight out of the Potterverse); Rex “The Strangler” Connor, the infrastructure-mad member for Cunningham; the unlikely figure of Pakistani financier Tirath Khemlani; the knowingly charismatic Jim Cairns, and Juni Morosi, Cairns’ private secretary and catnip for a scandal-mongering press.
And as ringmaster we have Norman Gunston (recreated with extraordinary skill by Matthew Whittet), a twitchy, guileless symbol of national anxiety, the little guy ducking and weaving the culture wars crossfire. It’s an inspired conceit.
Laura Murphy’s immensely appealing score bridges the worlds of music theatre and pop, cementing the show’s appeal to those generations of audience members too young to have a political response to the events depicted. She’s written a couple of genuine bangers, too – one of them for Queen Elizabeth II.
That The Dismissal will come back is, I think, a certainty. It could run and run.
But I hope it comes back to the York Theatre first. The room feels right. The deep thrust stage and arena seating is made for political theatre, which is what, above all, The Dismissal is.