By Bronwen Beechey
MELBOURNE — November 11 is the 20th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam government, so we can expect to see considerable amounts of print space and airwaves devoted to analysing perhaps the most important event of our recent history.
But according to a recent press release, it's also a good reason for a really tacky musical. Intrigued, Green Left Weekly contacted director and co-writer Simon Barfoot to ask the important question: why?
"Well, it's time, I suppose", is the inevitable reply. "Also it's a period of history that I've always been fascinated by. It's the most important political event in Australia since federation. It also has the ingredients of a great musical — humour, tragedy and great characters."
Barfoot, however, is quick to reassure us that while Whitlam — the Musical is a light-hearted look at the three years of the Whitlam government, it does address the serious issues. "It clearly comes down on the side of Whitlam, and of what he was trying to achieve."
With co-writer Guy Rundle, Barfoot has concentrated not solely on the dismissal, but addresses more the history of the period and the figure of Whitlam himself."We portray him as someone who had a vision for Australia but was in a way cut off in his prime, and we also look at the legacy of the period."
However, Whitlam — the Musical never allows the issues to get in the way of a good time. Taking full advantage of the current revival of '70s style (if that's not a contradiction in terms), the show promises to be a glam tack extravaganza featuring Gough, Margaret, Jim, Junie, Bob, Malcolm, Germaine and the rest of the gang, and more flares than you can poke a stick at. However, Barfoot assures the nervous that the production will be an ABBA-free zone: it has original music, written by Bruce Petherick.
Whitlam — the Musical will be presented in the 1995 Melbourne Comedy Festival by Operating Theatre Productions, a new company made up of actors, writers and musicians working in TV and on the Melbourne comedy and music circuit. Their credits include work with Full Frontal, TVTV, Jimeoin, Attitude and many others.
Barfoot has an extensive background in comedy, beginning his career in theatre at Melbourne University. In 1994 he directed the annual Melbourne Uni Revue, Lots of Falling Down, which was so successful that it went on national tour. He has also written comedy for Kittson Fahey and other productions. Whitlam — the Musical promises to be a great night's entertainment, and perhaps an education for those who weren't even born when it all happened.
Whitlam — the Musical is at the Athenaeum Theatre 2 Tuesday to Saturday at 7 pm, Sundays at 5 pm, till April 23. For bookings phone 650 1500.