It was such a touching scene. As he breathlessly recounts in his column in The Weekend Australian on 16-17 December, 2006, Philip Adams was beside himself with excitement when Paul Keating actually came to Sydney’s Belvoir for the opening of the musical about him, “Keating!” The only problem was it wasn’t really the opening. The first version, which Paul Keating had also seen, had one fault. True, it was what he describes as an “affectionate account”. But it had ended on the “sad note” of the “Hamlet of the Lodge” being defeated by that “hated Howard,” who is booed and hissed regularly by the passionately republican audience. Well the inconvenient fact that Mr. Keating actually lost the 1996 election could soon be fixed up. After all, isn’t that what Minitruth, the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, did? They doctored the newspaper archives to fit in with the latest lie promulgated by the party. No reason why the musical couldn’t follow this fine precedent.
So the musical reverses the 1996 election results, just as we suppose Mr. Adams would like the 1999 referendum reversed. And predictably, that had Mr. Adams and his fellow republicans cheering. Republicans do have such fun. Even before the curtain went up, the atmosphere in the theatre was highly emotional. Mr. Adam says they settled into their seats “uneasily” with “all eyes on Paul.” Why were they uneasy? Was it that they feared that their idol might disapprove, that the musical would be seen as some insulting lèse majesté of the great man? Their constant checking to see whether their idol approved is fascinating. “It was like Wimbledon,” writes Mr. Adams, “ with the crowd turning their heads to watch the play. Except here they were turning from the play to watch Paul. How he was reacting to this bit, that bit?” It seems he particularly liked his soliloquies in the lodge where he told himself about his plans for “ a braver, bolder” federal (or was that feral?) republic of Australia.
The make believe world of our republican passionarios ended in elation when the musical proclaimed that “ Keating wins” and “Honest John is booed from the stage like a panto villain. ” There was, of course, the mandatory standing ovation. This was not just for the actors, but also for the real Mr. Keating. No backward thespian, he not so much ran to the stage like a starlet about to receive some award. No, he danced his way up there and continued to dance . As Mr. Adams puts it, he was seen to be” “Fred Astairing his way to the stage” where he “ continued to hoof when he got there.” You will not be surprised to know this exceeded “audience expectations”. Apparently it exceeded Mr. Keating’s too. He has seen at the theatre on at least three occasions.