There’s plenty of bogan in this fun trawl through Australian politics, with some serious bite to boot, writes David Zampatti.
Extraordinary Auspol, BS Productions
Blue Room Theatre, 28 August 2023
BS Productions (aka Bogan Shakespeare), the company of Dean Lovatt and David Cox, has nestled into a tidy little niche in Perth’s Fringe World Festival with their popular mash-ups of the Bard, so I was curious to see how they’d manage without such eminent source material to bounce off in their Blue Room season of Extraordinary Auspol.
Staging a revue of some oddities of Australia’s political history seemed thin ground to plough over, so I took my daughter to the show with a warning: “This could be funny, but it’s bound to be pretty daggy.”
It was both, of course, because daggy and funny are Lovatt and Cox’s stock in trade, but to my pleasant surprise, and its very great credit, Extraordinary Auspol turns out to be much more than that, and the soil it digs turns out to be deeper and more fertile than I expected.
Some of the oddities they uncovered are just that: the mystery of the Victorian parliament’s missing golden mace or the Great Emu War of 1932; the erratic political career of the ALP’s Sol Rosevear, who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives, but whose many failings caused the great Fred Daly, amazed by the praise heaped on him at his funeral, to exclaim “By God, we’re burying the wrong man!”
There are the well-known targets: Harold Holt and the alleged Chinese submarine; the brief “I’m buggered” political career of rugby league great Mel Meninga.
But there are also characters who reward more attention, especially from the often-maligned socialist left of our politics: the pugnacious and erudite Fred Paterson, the only communist ever elected to an Australian parliament (in Queensland of all places); Mary Gilmore, she of the $10 note and famous 1957 William Dobell portrait, who took off to Paraguay in 1896 to join a socialist utopia called “New Australia”.
Closer to home, the second woman elected to an Australian parliament, May Holman, would have been the first-ever Australian female cabinet minister had she not died after a car accident near Donnybrook in 1939.
There are stories about the Australian suffragette movement; Billy Hughes’s machinations around the conscription referenda of 1916 and 1917 – no doubt there are people who would like to throw eggs at today’s politicians the way the audience is invited to in Extraordinary Auspol’s most hilarious skit – and the hideous treatment of the remains of the Noongar warrior Yagan.
Skit comedy has risks and rewards; its short, sharp bites don’t need exposition or a narrative arc, but neither does it have characters you can hitch a ride with or a continuous landscape you can ride through with them.
Lovatt and Cox know the territory well, and their control of it is expert throughout. Cox is fine as an avuncular, knowing master of ceremonies. Georgia McGivern and Tate Bennett perform characters in each routine with speed on their feet and suitably over-the-topicality, and all in all, a very good time is had by all.
But more than that, these stories reveal Extraordinary Auspol’s serious intent – a call for tolerance and humanity in our politics and society made plangent by the silliness that frames it.
And that makes it not daggy at all.
Pictured top: David Cox is the master of ceremonies for ‘Extraordinary Auspol’. Photo Dean Lovatt
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