David Hunt

Extract from The Chaser Quarterly, Issue 1 (2015) David Hunt





STARRING: GEORGE BRANDIS (and featuring performers vetted by GEORGE BRANDIS)



When Arts Minister, George Brandis, announced earlier this year that $105 million of Australia Council funding was being transferred to the National Program for Excellence in the Arts (NPEA), a new program to be administered by Brandis himself, the arts community was aflutter.

Many saw sinister purpose. Was money that would have otherwise gone into David Williamson plays about first home buyers struggling with Sydney property prices,going to be diverted to actual first home buyers struggling with property prices in the marginal seats of Sydney? Was Brandis raiding the arts piggy bank to fill a barrel with pork?

As it turns out, these concerns were overblown.

Minister Brandis has ploughed NPEA funds straight back into the arts, with the establishment of the George Brandis Political Theatre, although, of course, no artists were invited to last night’s opening night gala.

Brandis made no apology for the guest list in his welcoming address to the politicians, bankers, captains of industry, Australian cricketers, colourful racing identities, Real Housewives of Melbourne and News Corp journalists who attended the glittering event.

“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I don’t like. Artists… hair-shirted, hand-wringing, chardonnay-sipping, dope-smoking lackeys of the national broadcaster and other Marxist organisations,” Brandis announced to thunderous applause.

“They lack objectivity, even the realists. Artists cannot judge what constitutes good art. That is properly the job of politicians,” Brandis concluded.

The $80 million George Brandis Political Theatre, the NPEA’s flagship project, is a magnificent 12,000 seat theatre-in-the-round, recently installed in the minister’s Parliament House office. The intimate performance space is nestled between the minister’s gilt mahogany bookshelves (certified as genuine Louis XV by Helen Demidenko) and an elephant foot wastepaper basket once vomited in by Ernest Hemingway.

Minister Brandis defended the cost of the theatre. “The round stage doubles as a helipad and the $80 million includes my office being fitted with a retractable roof so art lovers can land in the theatre in time for the pre-show Bollinger and caviar. I got the idea from Thunderbirds,” the minister added. “Did you know the actors were puppets? Why can’t the ABC produce quality shows like that?”

A further $24 million in NPEA funds is being used to help politicians perform adaptions of Shakespeare’s plays in the new theatre. “Modern playwrights like Gilbert and Sullivan are just too political,” the minister told the opening night audience.

Minister Brandis apologised that his theatre would not be able to produce the complete works of Shakespeare due to the Senate’s mindless opposition to amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. “The risk of staging Othello is just too great. I wanted Andrew Bolt to play the lead role in black-face because he does a great Jamaican accent, but the leftist fun police have put pay to that.”

Minister Brandis also apologised for the removal of the Scottish play from the program. “I invited Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Bill Shorten to share the role of Lady Macbeth, and also cast Ms Gillard as all three witches. But they refused as they’re busy with their third staging of Julius Caesar.”

Despite these disappointments, the opening night audience was treated to excerpts of the season to come.

Health Minister Susan Ley’s sensitive portrayal of the AIDS ravaged king in HIV, her adaption of Henry IV, had the audience in tears, with Barnaby Joyce’s Falstaff providing moments of light relief.

“Barnaby was so good, I’m going to cast him as the fool in every play,” Minister Brandis gushed.

Joe Hockey’s sinister cigar smoking Shylock was pelted with rotten fruit after his “Some men there are love not a gaping pig” soliloquy. Foreign Affairs Minister

Julie Bishop performed the role of Portia via video-link from Indonesia, where her quality of mercy speech received mixed reviews. The play ended with Shylock’s immortal words, “Poor people don’t drive carts,” with a dead cat added to the rotting fruit as the curtain fell.

Mathias Cormann’s cross-dressing Tranio in The Taming of the Shrew was praised by one critic as “the most economic girly man to ever tread the boards”. Others said his often incomprehensible performance was Belgian waffle.

The Greens’ performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was halted after Act I, as Greg Hunt burned down the set during intermission as part of a new logging operation targeting old-growth fairy forests.

Clive Palmer played both gentlemen of Verona. Ricky Muir did donuts in his chariot as Mark Antony and Glen Lazarus was perfectly cast as a pot-plant in Much Ado About Nothing. All of these fine performers were completely overshadowed by Jacquie Lambie’s Ophelia, although her hair floating in the water scene has resulted in the reclassification of the Political Theatre’s Hamlet. “I really should have had a wax first,” Ms Lambie apologised.

But the standout piece of political theatre was The Tempest. After Bronwyn Bishop, coquettish as the air spirit Ariel, descended through the retractable roof in a Blackhawk, Peter Dutton’s deformed Caliban started ranting incoherently about people coming to his island on boats. Scott Morrison’s Prospero then declared that the rest of the play would be performed with the curtains drawn and lights out as it dealt with on water matters.

Karl Kruszelnicki closed the evening by saying that the George Brandis Political Theatre was tax-payers’ money well spent. So now we know how the government spent the NPEA’s last million dollars.

“Editor’s note: George Brandis was removed as Minister for the Arts after the Turnbull coup. This is a tragedy, as no previous minister has done so much for artists favoured by George Brandis.”