A simple set of an old TV set playing commercials of the era sets the “scene” of Squabbalogic’s ambitious historical musical, The Dismissal.
The box explodes like a rickety Crawford Productions stunt, expelling Norman Gunston through its screen, the little Aussie bleeder from the box becoming corporeal and a kind of narrator/chorus to the burlesque of this Whitlam era show.
The Dismissal charts the full-of-hope, robust rise and rise of the Gough Whitlam led Labor Government from 1972, to its rambunctious demise that became the nefarious and notorious “maintain the rage moment” of November 11, 1975.
Sadly, the rage dissipated shortly after The Dismissal and the dream went into hibernation for seven years.
Nostalgic plundering by Jay James-Moody, who conceived and directs the show, pays off in a booty of burlesque. No sugar or cloying saccharine but not averse to a little cheese, The Dismissal sails the straits of straight narrative historical fact with hyper theatrical set pieces to alleviate the doldrums, spoonfuls of satire that help the history lesson go down.
Matthew Whittet is pitch perfect as the gauche Gunston, a funny and fulsome iteration of an iconic character.
Veteran scene-stealer Peter Carroll is marvellously Machiavellian as Garfield Barwick, a La Stupenda and a Menzies era lawn mower man (to the Victa, the spoils).
Joe Kosky is a killer as Jim Cairns, his “they don't get me” refrain full of comic pathos.
Shannen Alyce Quan as Junie Morosi presents one of the knockout songs of the show, Headline, the lyrics of which are regrettably not just redolent a half a century on.
Another stand out is Monique Sallé in a hat trick trifecta: the brow beaten, election losing, bad shoe choice Billy Snedden, slippery financier, Tirath Khemlani, and Queen Elizabeth II, depicted here as a raunchy regal in pill box hat, suspenders and fishnets fawned over by fetishist fidos; kinky corgis who bring new meaning to the command “heel”.
Justin Smith as Gough Whitlam has the bearing and voice of the great reformer while Andrew Cutliffe as his nemesis, Malcolm Fraser, personifies the patrician private school prefect perfectly.
Notable songs from composer lyricist, Laura Murphy, include Private School Boys, a born to rule Liberal Party Anthem and I’m Not Listening, an unbecoming put down from the Queen, and the aforementioned Headline, a resounding slap in the face of entrenched racism and misogyny.
Amid so much excellence the few lapses glare. The Dismissal runs three hours which is too long. But then, time flies when your having fun.
The Dismissal – An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy
book Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody | music and Lyrics Laura Murphy | conceived by Jay James-Moody
Director Jay James-Moody
Venue: Seymour Centre | Cnr City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW
Dates: 31 August – 21 October 2023