The name Max Gillies is synonymous with political satire in Australia and he returns in a show that revisits some of Australia's political history in Once Were Leaders. After three sold out shows already, Gillies has added further shows due to popular demand.
Gillies is not really sure how his interest in political satire first began. He recalls listening to the radio as a very young child and amongst the BBC comedy shows he would listen to, the young Gillies was fascinated by parliament question time. As he recalls these memories, Gillies thinks it was the spontaneity of the live question time that appealed to him in particular. As he listened, he become more and more interested in these colourful political characters.
Years later, Gillies became involved with The Pram Factory theatre in Carlton. The first show they performed was titled Marvelous Melbourne and was set in the period following the gold rush. It was a comparison with what was happening in the current period of the Vietnam War with events of the past. Gillies describes it as being a very broad Vaudevillian type of show where performers would play several different characters. Every now and then he would be required to play the role of a current politician.
Gillies says he will never forget the reaction of the audience when they instantly recognised the character being performed. It was such an immediate response and very different to being a character actor. Gillies returned to his interest in politics and everything began to merge.
It was David Williamson who first encouraged Gillies to do his own show, so Gillies commissioned some scripts to be written. Gillies is very quick to attribute his success to the quality of the scripts he has been given. From these first scripts and shows, Gillies grew a career that has spanned decades, resulted in countless awards and gave him a national television program: The Gillies Report. When The Gillies Report was first commissioned by the ABC, Gillies was advised the demographic would consist of men aged 45-65. It turned out that Gillies' audience was across both genders and his viewers ranged from 8 to 80! It made Max Gillies a household name.
Being blessed by such quality scripts, Gillies felt there had to be a way to revisit this wonderful material. His very first script about Bob Hawke still works today, but according to Gillies, the trick was to provide enough context to each of the scripts – which are essentially attached to historical events. Years ago, Gillies would dress up with costumes and wigs to give the full impersonation. Today he doesn't need to. With an image of the younger Gillies impersonating an easily recognised political figure, the audience immediately connects with the character portrayal. Close your eyes and you could believe you were listening to Bob Hawke, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Malcolm Fraser, John Howard… the list goes on. The performances are really quite extraordinary.
Gillies shares how the satirical characterisation of Bob Hawke came from the suggestion that Hawke was very much like a television evangelist of the era. Gillies spent several Sundays watching this evangelist to develop the charismatic caricature of Bob Hawke, the politician. Gillies impersonations are still spot on and no doubt he is still enjoying that immediate recognition and response from his audience.
Political satire should make an audience laugh now and think later according to Gillies. After a lot of laughter, the final line of his sold out show, Once Were Leaders, left the audience of his Melbourne opening night saying a reflective group “mmmmm ….” The show is hilarious, the characters are instantly recognisable, but then you realise the irony of some of this humour – these were our leaders and how different are our current leaders.
Gillies suggests Australia is currently in a leadership deficit and by the end of Once Were Leaders, you can't help but miss some of these colourful politicians from years ago.
If you remember the politics of the last century this show is a must see!
Once Were Leaders
Friday 20 March, 8pm
Friday 27 March, 8pm
Saturday 28 March, 3pm
Saturday 28 March, 8pm
Venue: ANZ Pavilion – Arts Centre Melbourne
Tickets: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182 183
Photo credit: Marty Williams