It has been a turbulent year in Australian politics, rife with sordid scandals, clumsy gaffes, furtive smears, and one-dimensional slogans – the kind of year that makes light work for political satirists.
As the daily political folly continues in Canberra, a cast of comedic counterweights take over the Chippendale Hotel to present Year of the Abbott for Sydney Fringe Festival.
Looking at the year in review, the show promises to take audiences on a seriously hilarious one-hour romp through the blundering interviews, slippery resignations, contentious reforms, flagging popularity, and flawed media predictions that have punctuated the political narrative since the 2013 Federal Election.
Writer Nathan Lentern, who also plays former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, says the show is a light-hearted analysis combining conversation, interviews and recordings that celebrate the absurdities of Australian politics. He explains, “A lot of political comedies try to make a point and further political argument – we steer clear of that. [Year of the Abbott] is playful, as opposed to critical. It’s a celebration of the amusing things that celebrity politicians can do.”
Straddling play and variety show formats, the production pieces together some of the missteps and broken promises that our leaders might prefer that we forget. From ‘suppositories of wisdom’ to inappropriate winks to ‘Team Australia’, no faux pas has been spared.
With incisive wit, Year of the Abbott shines the spotlight on the eccentricities and paradoxes that characterise Australian political life. The revue is presented by two political pundits, played by Shane Addison and Timothy Hugh Govers, who recap the year that was, serving up an irreverent pastiche of fond reflections and barbed observations. To complete the picture, the show is peppered with unforgiving impersonations of Kevin Rudd (Lentern) and Tony Abbott (Jonas Holt).
Onstage, Mr Lentern impersonates the former Prime Minister with forensic attention to his passive aggressions and backhanded compliments. He says, “An integral part of playing Kevin is to explore how he ducks and weaves out of questions – he answers them, but at the same time he never really answers them at all.”
When Mr Holt takes the stage as Prime Minister Abbott, audiences can expect 12 months worth of one-liners crammed into his seven-minute monologue.
“I spew out one-liners like a shotgun. As soon as I step onstage, I basically start lecturing everyone in the crowd – like they’re school children who need to be told what’s good for them,” he says.
Known for his parodies of troubled rugby league stars – from Anthony Mundine to Geoff Toovey to Sonny Bill Williams – Mr Holt makes a memorable splash in the realm of political satire with his impersonation of Tony Abbott.
Mr Holt says, “Abbott is fun to impersonate because there are so many facets to him – he likes fire trucks, cycling, he enjoys swimming, he used to be the mad monk on his way to becoming a catholic priest. A lot of politicians are boring, fat, guys who get caught going to brothels and stuff like that – not him. As dull as he might seem from a distance, Tony is actually quite an interesting character.”
Mr Holt concedes that a transformation takes place when he steps into the Prime Minister’s persona. He says, “It all starts with a blue tie and a couple of clumps of blue tack behind my ears. But to really capture the mannerisms – or ‘idiot-syncracies’ – of Tony Abbott, I study not only how he speaks but also what makes him tick.
“I have spoken to his supporters – they’re hard to find in the Inner West, but where I live, in Manly, they’re everywhere – to get inside the head of his loyal followers.”
While the name of the show suggests that the Prime Minister might be the butt of all the jokes, Mr Lentern insists that Year of the Abbott is a nonpartisan comedy where none are spared from ridicule. He says, “It’s not an assault on the Liberal Party, it’s just an annual review of politics – a very funny one.”
Mr Holt agrees, “Abbott definitely cops a roasting in the show, but the roast is balanced – we take the piss out of the yellow, green and the red of politics. There are plenty of gags about K-Rudd, Clive Palmer, and of course Jacqui Lambie. So much ridiculous stuff has happened in politics in the last year – it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.”
The first year of Abbott’s prime ministership has generated plenty of material for comics. Mr Holt nominates the notorious Abbott wink as a favourite, “As far as gaffes and blunders go, the wink would have to be the defining moment for Abbott. All the elements were there to make it comedy gold – he had already been called out for sexism, he didn’t know he was being filmed, he was trying to be a bloke’s bloke.”
Now in its fifth year, the Sydney Fringe Festival is a celebration of local artists, encouraging new audiences to experience the independent arts of Sydney. Spread out across five cultural precincts, the festival provides a platform for the creative fringe of the city. (CC & SOC)
Sep 27, Chippendale Hotel, 87-91 Abercrombie St, Chippendale, $15, sydneyfringe.com
BY CARMEN CITA & SHAUNA O’CARROLL