22 March 2021

The Dismissal: the musical heads a splendid season at the Canberra Theatre

| Genevieve Jacobs
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The Dismissal

The Dismissal – as narrated by Norman Gunston – comes to Canberra as a musical. Photo: National Film and Sound Archives.

The grand drama of the Dismissal, replete with themes of betrayal and revenge, might be best suited to grand opera. But, come November, Australia’s greatest post war constitutional crisis will become a stage musical narrated by the little Aussie bleeder himself, Norman Gunston.

It’s one of the major highlights of a packed Canberra Theatre season announced this week. The Sydney Theatre Company production will have its world premiere here in the city where it all happened and where, apparently, everyone over 60 was on the steps of Old Parliament House at the time.

Described as an all singing, all dancing, all mudslinging re-telling of our most controversial moment, STC executive producer Patrick McIntyre says the company is “totally thrilled” to collaborate with the Canberra Theatre and originators, Squabbalogic, on the production.

“It’s a cheeky premise for musical theatre, I grant you,” McIntyre says. “But we think it will be an enjoyable way of revisiting national myth making. Remember for younger people, it’s out of the history books. And having Norman Gunston (played by Matthew Whittet) pop up with his microphone is a stroke of genius.”

The STC collaboration also includes Seven Stages of Grieving. The Debra Mailman and Wesley Enoch classic, widely studied in schools, will also appear on stage for the first time in some years. The author and director have given permission to update the work, which traces seven phases of Aboriginal history in a one woman tour-de-force starring Elaine Crombie.

White Pearl has been described as a blisteringly funny satire, centring on a Singapore-based cosmetic company, staffed by women from across the region who are heavily invested in a new skin whitening product. When a new television commercial accidentally leaks, social media goes into meltdown.

The show is also a co-production with the National Theatre of Parramatta, although the Australian world premiere was gazumped in 2019 when the Royal Court Theatre in London grabbed the script, swiftly followed by an American production that turned playwright Anchuli Felicia King into red-hot theatre world property.

Robin Nevin in A German Life

Robin Nevin in A German Life. Photo: Supplied.

John Bell returns to the theatre for a one man show and Robyn Nevin’s A German Life, a huge hit at the Adelaide Festival, is also on the stage in May. Bell Shakespeare brings their production of Hamlet in October and the curtain also rises on a musical production of American Psycho, the 80’s cult classic.

The works all signal an intention to bring the most acclaimed works to Canberra, hot from festival seasons, but Canberra Theatre director Alex Budd says there’s also an exciting new residency program that will focus on developing new works by Canberra artists.

“The New Territory program will support the development of three new works by Canberra artists , and include artist wages, funded use of a performance space, and mentoring from prominent Australian artists and theatre staff,” he says. Expressions of interest will be sought in coming weeks and the Theatre is also working with Canberra Youth Theatre and QL2 dance to present several new local works.


Fangirls opens at the Canberra Theatre this week. Photo: Supplied.

It’s all a welcome homecoming from the theatre, which hopes to soon be operating close to full capacity. The Playhouse has always been a beloved destination for Australia theatre companies, and Alex Budd says co-operation, flexibility and camaraderie have combined to create an incredible season, while Theatre staff have achieved miracles pulling the program together.

“We love touring to Canberra,” Patrick McIntyre from the STC says. “Bringing three shows this year is a big achievement for both our teams – in effect it’s a mini season in Canberra. We are all very excited. We love it as a city.”

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This might surprise you, but there is no full news bulletin for that day November 11, 1975 in existence. TV stations deleted all the news content from the 1970s from New Year’s Day 1980. The items about the Whitlam dismissal were dubbed before the destruction took place.

It was common practice in the 1960s and 70s for tapes to be taped over and for film to be destroyed. Nobody thought that news items from that era would be history in future years. Television was seen as disposable and lightweight. Incidentally the last Movietone newsreel shown in cinemas was about the Whitlam dismissal. The company stopped operating after that.

Capital Retro12:04 pm 22 Mar 21

Maintain the rage!

Gawd, a night for all the 70’s era conspiracy theorists. Let it go!

Peter Graves2:04 pm 10 May 21

Except the conspiracy was found to be true – between Fraser, Barwick as the Chief Justice advising Fraser (despite being told not to, by Whitlam), Mason as one of the Justices (who actually drafted the Dismissal advice used by Kerr) and Kerr.

Read Professor Jenny Hockings’ “Release the Palace Letters” to learn about the realities of 11 November 1975 – especially directly involving Buckingham Palace,

Capital Retro2:46 pm 10 May 21

And Elvis Presley is living in Tuggeranong.

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