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Photos: Jeff Busby.

POSTED: 01 MARCH 2010

Godzone, by Max Gillies and Guy Rundle

Melbourne Theatre Company | Seymour Centre, Chippendale, Sydney | Until 6 March

Then: Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 9–13 March; Blakiston Theatre, Geelong, 16–20 March

Back in the mid-80s, when Max Gillies’ satirical side came to the notice of the nation with characterisations of politicians and other prominent figures on ABC TV with The Gillies Report, he would have needed a plough to furrow his brow adequately enough to do Bob Hawke. And quite possibly a ditch digger to do justice to the late Don Chipp.

These days it might be more a case of using a trowel and Polyfilla to match the baby-smooth face of Kevin Rudd.

But age certainly hasn’t wearied Gillies, and equally certainly the years haven’t condemned his style of intellectually and morally stripping naked the famous and the notorious.

His latest production, Godzone, shows Gillies as acerbic, merciless and uncannily accurate as ever, and in co-writer Guy Rundle he has found a wonderfully talented collaborator.

I wonder if the likes of Rudd, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Melbourne journalist Andrew Bolt, etc, have hides thick enough to take in a performance.

Perhaps they do. But I doubt any of them would survive the session without at least a good cringe and a desperate desire to shut their eyes and cover their ears.

There is some seriously great scripting in Godzone — some 90 minutes of fast, clever lines. Certainly more than enough to mostly fall through the cracks of a boomer’s memory.

I did, however, particularly like Rudd’s proclamation: “When this Government gives serious thought to a matter, it remains thought.” Or words to that effect, anyway. One simple line, such deep understanding.

But it’s Gillies’ stage presence, his ability to get under the skin of targets, to carry their personality into his conversation, to get nuances of speech and facial expression so accurately, that elevates Godzone truly above even the cleverest skit-based show.

I’ll never be able to listen to Julia Gillard’s pronunciation of “ed-u-kay-shen” again — or Tony Abbott’s slight, thoughtful stammer — without a chuckle.

Not all of Gillies’ work is presented live onstage. Quite a few make their appearance on the above-stage screen while Gillies is going through what are obviously quite intricate and detailed make-up sessions.

It’s where you meet, for instance, the jutting chin of Malcolm Turnbull, the jocular foolishness of Joe Hockey, and, easily best of all, the arm-waving, unhinged, sheer lunacy of “Crazy Barnaby Joyce”, the used-car dealer.

Certainly, those with a leftish lean will find more to laugh about than those of the political right, particularly the more extreme religious right ... who should probably steer well clear of this one.

While Rudd’s preference for process over action, his infatuation with bureaucratic terminology, and his gleeful embrace of Mandarin, are all sent up with great effect, he doesn’t come out smelling too badly.

Not like Tony “God’s Tool” Abbott. There’s a touch of the evil in Gillies’ portrayal here of the born-to-rule Liberal leader trying to come to terms with the 2007 defeat. God knew that they should have won. Pity the people were too stupid to understand.

I reckon the show would offend at least half the population, which is about where top-notch political and social satire should sit. Most of the other half will hoot loudly.

PS: If you’re going along and don’t know who Christopher Hitchens is, he is, as I discovered later, an English–American author and journalist. Fascinating guy. Have a look at his Wikipedia entry.

PPS: Also, if you’re going along, buy the program. It contains plenty of laughs, too, starting with the description of Godzone as “An Australian thoughtgather dreamcatch maximising possibility and connectivity”.

CLICK HERE to email Oz Baby Boomers with a comment regarding this play or review.

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