Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.8

As far as Australian musicals go it doesn’t get any better than this. The Dismissal, An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy is a dazzling reenactment of the 1975 constitutional crisis that led to Gough Whitlam’s sacking by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. It is one of the most iconic and documented moments in our recent political history.

If you ever saw the 1983 ABC mini-series called The Dismissal you will note a lot of similarities in the narrative structures, which works very well to convey political events and personalities to a broad, diverse audience. Jay James-Moody is credited for conceptualising and directing the musical, and it is evident he has a passion for storytelling that is both accessible and engaging. A lot of musicals I’ve seen of late have trouble ‘landing’ the words when the music is overpowering, or tries to cram too much into the back-story, but here every word, articulation and concept is crystal clear. The vision and choreography is strong and highly amusing, with many scenes garnering rapturous applause for their bravado. There are no dull moments or annoying singy-songy-songs that make you want to look at your phone. It keeps you fully immersed and present. I always vouch for a soundtrack too if the songs are super catchy, and I have no hesitation to ask for one here! Please make it happen!!

The casting and acting is top tier; so bloody good they should all be cast again in a musical of The Castle if that ever happens (actually, there is one coming up in Victoria). Maybe I’m dreaming, but there’s something about the vibe of 1970s nostalgia that is so much fun to watch in this production. It milks everything and everyone for full comedic effect. Malcolm Fraser, played by Andrew Cutcliffe, seduces his way into the flaccid and fractured Liberal Party leadership with his impenetrable confidence and immaculate dress sense. His boys swoon with gyrating pleasure. Sir John Kerr is played by Octavia Barron Martin, an intellectually soft pawn in comparison to those with the privilege of private schooling. Martin manages to make Kerr, one of the most hated men of his time, comedic, interesting and sympathetic. Kerr’s style of fashion reminds me of The Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine, which is fitting given Kerr was the son of a boiler maker. Rupert Murdoch is played by a puppet, which seems very fitting too. Matthew Whittet plays gorky comedian Norman Gunston who was on the steps of parliament house when Whitlam made his famous ‘God save the Queen’ speech. Whittet is every bit as gorky and gormless as Gunston, so much so that he had us rolling in the isles at ‘hello’ (by the way – whoever did the vocal coaching needs a gold medal – it’s so good to hear just how alike the actors’ voices are to the personalities they play).

Peter Carroll who narrated the ABC’s version of The Dismissal stars in this show as Sir Garfield Barwick, Chief Justice of Australia, a gravelly reptilian wizard who does a fair bit of shit-stirring. Nice to see him coming full circle. Monique Sallé has a ball being a host of characters including our former Queen, former Liberal Leader Billy Snedden and shady International Trade Emissary Tirath Khemlani that cost the Labor party a fair deal of credibility. Ouch. Adding to the Labor Party woes, the affair between Doctor Jim Cairns and Junie Morosi is thoroughly examined too, played by Joe Kosky and Shannen Alyce Quan respectably. Other standout portrayals include Margaret Whitlam (Brittanie Shipway), former Minerals and Energy Minister, Rex Connor (Georgie Bolton) and Lady Anne Kerr (Stacey Thomsett). Finally of course there is Gough Whitlam played by Justin Smith, with all the mighty charismatic intellect that defined him, and also naive optimism that was his achilles heel.

The musical earned a well deserved standing ovation on opening night. It’s sexy, witty, playful and quintessentially Australian in taking the mickey, while having something relevant to say about our national identity, democracy and egalitarianism.

In short, it’s time to see this musical. To appropriate a lyric by The Whitlams, There’s no aphrodisiac like politics.

The Dismissal, An Extremely Serious Musical Comedy presented by Squabbalogic and Watershed is playing at Seymour Centre until 21 October 2023. For tickets and showtimes go to

Image credit: David Hooley

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