The Dismissal: An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy – Seymour Centre (NSW)
Written by Blake Erickson & Jay James-Moody. Music & Lyrics by Laura Murphy. Produced by Squabbalogic.
Reviewed by Tessa Miles
Seymour Centre, Sydney
Until October 21st 2023
- A sharp, funny, and astute production, representing what potential future productions of Australian musical theatre can achieve -
In recent years, we've witnessed a surge in the popularity of political musicals like Hamilton and Six. So, it's only natural that Australian politics would take a shot at the musical stage. Enter The Dismissal, an original Australian production that dives headfirst into a pivotal moment in the nation's history, the 1975 dismissal of Gough Whitlam, and the subsequent rise of Malcolm Fraser. With its expert blend of politics, intrigue, and music, this show delivers a riveting and comedic theatrical experience that's worth every minute.
At the helm of this turbulent journey is Norman Gunston, brought to life with brilliance by Matthew Whittet. His wit and charm set the stage perfectly. Justin Smith's portrayal of Whitlam is uncanny, capturing both the man's essence and his unmistakable appearance.
As the story unfolds, tracing Whitlam's election and political achievements, the pace never falters. The heart of the drama lies in the unravelling of the Whitlam government, thanks to the antics of Jim Cairns (Joe Kosky), Rex Connor (Georgie Bolton), and the loans affair, as well as the roles played by Sir John Kerr (Octavia Barron Martin), Malcolm Fraser (Andrew Cutcliffe), and Sir Garfield Barwick (Peter Carroll) in undermining it from the outside.
The cast of The Dismissal (2023). Images by David Hooley Photography.
The entire cast deserves a standing ovation for their outstanding performances. Carroll's Sir Garfield Barwick brings uproarious energy, and his entrances and exits marked by a puff of smoke are sheer brilliance. Martin infuses Sir John Kerr with a touch of pathos, while Monique Sallé's portrayal of Tirath Khemlani, Billy Snedden, and Queen Elizabeth II is nothing short of show-stopping. Kosky's Jim Cairns is both pompous and hilariously ponderous, providing ample comic relief.
Cutcliffe's Malcolm Fraser is sharp and delightfully quirky, with "Private School Boys" serving as a memorable showstopper. The gender-inclusive casting shines a spotlight on the male-dominated world of 1970s politics, allowing female performers to excel, with Bolton's Rex Connor being a standout in her spectacularly crude portrayal.
Brittanie Shipway as Margaret Whitlam and Shannon Alyce Quan as Junie Morosi serve as voices of reason. While their more sincere songs struggle to match the impact of the satirical numbers, their vocal performances are undeniably impressive. Stacey Thomsett's Lady Kerr, on the other hand, is a delightful and wicked presence on stage.
The musical score, composed by Laura Murphy, is a highlight, featuring standout numbers that truly engage the audience. "I'm Not Listening," performed by Queen Elizabeth II (Sallé), stands out as a fan favourite, showcasing Murphy's exceptional talent as a composer. While most songs maintain a witty and satirical tone, a few veer into more earnest territory, particularly towards the end.
This production undoubtedly deserves a well-deserved standing ovation.
The set design strikes a brilliant balance between simplicity and effectiveness, skillfully enhancing the narrative without overshadowing the unfolding events. The flip-flap sign, a subtle yet effective year indicator, is a stroke of genius. It adds historical context without overwhelming the audience.
The strategic use of props and the dynamic, elevated moving stage contribute significantly to scene-building, allowing the audience to actively participate in crafting their own mental images of the unfolding story. This aspect is especially significant as the musical repeatedly underscores the different ways in which events are remembered.
While The Dismissal maintains its witty and sharply observed tone throughout, it stumbles a bit towards the ending, struggling to find a satisfying conclusion and extending a tad longer than necessary. Nevertheless, it remains a sharp, funny, and astute production, representing what potential future productions of Australian musical theatre can achieve with the right idea, belief, and (most importantly) funding.
For anyone intrigued by Australian history and politics and eager to experience Australian humour and talent at its finest, The Dismissal is an absolute must-see. With its exceptional cast, engaging story, and memorable music, this production undoubtedly deserves a well-deserved standing ovation.
Book by Blake Erickson and Jay James-Moody Music and Lyrics by Laura Murphy Orchestrations & Arrangements by Steven Kramer & Laura Murphy Conceived and Directed by Jay James-Moody Musical Director Mark Chamberlain Choreographer Amy Campbell Set & Costume Designers Charles Davis & Emma White Lighting Designer James Wallis Sound Designer David Grigg Cast Matthew Whittet, Justin Smith, Andrew Cutcliffe, Octavia Barron-Martin, Georgie Bolton, Peter Carroll, Lincoln Elliott, Joe Kosky, Kaori Maeda-Judge, Shannen Alyce Quan, Quinton Rofail Rich, Monique Sallé, Brittanie Shipway, Anusha Thomas
Produced by Squabbalogic Independent Music Theatre Inc
Wednesday 18 October, 7:30pm
Captions are text descriptions that display the session's dialogue, identify speakers, and describe other relevant sounds that are ideal for anyone with a hearing impairment. Captions will be displayed on a screen at the front right of the stage for this performance. To access the best and most appropriate seats please call the Box Office on 9061 5344.