In the three years that she was Prime Minister, Julia Gillard successfully passed 561 legislative bills, a ratio that is unmatched by any other Prime Minister. For 11 years, Julie Bishop served as the deputy leader of the Liberal Party. They are both smart, successful women that have since left politics but that doesn't mean they've gone away with the two joining forces for a special Melbourne Fringe Festival show where they take down the patriarchy and tell Australia what it's really like to be women in politics.
Created by Patrick Livesey and Esther Myles, Gone Girls is inspired by the relentless abuse and attacks endured by these two women from both political parties and the media. "Julia became Prime Minister right when I was deep into high school debating and totally obsessed with my social studies teacher and debating coach, Ms Guilfoyle. She had a deep love for Julia and we spoke about her often so I realised pretty quickly where I stood politically," Livesey tells me. "We spent many a lesson baffled at the treatment she received by our media and it was the first time I remember thinking that maybe there was an alternative agenda going on there. Julia was my political awakening in the same way the Rio undies man had me realise I was gay."
"Patrick he told me about an idea he’d been cooking up for a show and he needed someone to be Julie. I’m passionate about our politics and still gobsmacked at how our major parties treat their female members so it was something I thought was relevant and important but also something that could be really funny," Myles recalls. "With where our politics is at, the prominence of negativity and hate in our national conversations and the total inertia that remains in the face of the climate emergency, it feels like the right time to be doing #auspol satire."
The two may have met only last year but working together on this show has been an extremely smooth experience. "We have a shared sense of humour, our political and ethical values align in (most) of the same places and we love a passionate deconstruction of any theatre show," Myles says. "Working closely on a show together has been the most natural thing for me, anything he writes has me in stitches or makes me earnestly mutter to myself “that’s such a good point”."
"Living in each other’s pockets means we’re able to be spit-balling and making up a lot of shit on the go which I then go away to write into scenes that Esther then edits into something a bit more coherent. After doing my solo show, The Boy, George last year, it’s the best feeling having someone you trust and respect along for the ride," Livesey adds.
With Gillard and Bishop clocking up a combined total of over 30 years in politics, there is no doubt a plethora of material to dissect and discuss, which means determining what should be included in a 60 minute show is not the easiest thing to do. "We’re covering political careers that began in the late 90’s and despite both leaving politics they are very much continuing here and around the world. We've looked at hilarious ‘gotcha’ moments from Question Time, a wealth of statements worthy of critique, and both have far from ideal voting records," Myles says. "Then there’s their personal histories that are a dream come true dramatically and part of why they make such a good pairing. Both are from Adelaide; Julia from a working class migrant family, Julie’s family owned a successful apple and cherry orchard, both were head girls at school, Julia public, Julie private, both were lawyers, Julia fighting for trade unions and Julie working for the corporate sector. Amongst all that we’ve had to be selective about what’s relevant to the project in this moment right now."
"Part of the desire to make this show has been to share these stories and remind or maybe even enlighten our audiences of our political history. Julia becoming Prime Minister was in some ways the catalyst for the seemingly constant changing of the guard that’s become our country's Prime Ministership and political drag is a really fun way of bringing this knowledge back into the collective conscious and beginning conversations about where we go from here," Livesey adds.
So while this is a show examining some serious and pressing issues, the two creators have approached it with comedic flare, sharp humour and, of course, drag. "It's a very camp, outrageously high stakes reimagining of Australia’s politics and all the wheeling and dealing that goes into it. We’re taking what our national media has latched onto and projected about these women and the ways they’ve been portrayed throughout their careers and then trying to flip that on its head," Livesey says.
While researching what to include in the show has been an arduous task, the other challenge the two faced was how to portray these women, each coming with her own set of challenges. "Julie and I couldn’t be more opposed politically so the biggest challenge has been seeing the world through her eyes. She’s known to run between 6 and 10km every morning, come rain or shine, whether in Canberra or with a security detail in Iran so I’ve started running to try and find some of that infamous grit and determination," Myles says. "I’m the type of person who refuses to run for a tram when I’m already late so it’s been a big deal. As anyone who’s more familiar with running than I will know, it doesn’t take long until you begin to feel like a total bad bitch. In many ways though we’re actually pretty similar, we’re both stubborn, love getting dolled up, and both fight for what we believe in."
"The biggest thing for me was being aware of how many well-known impersonations there have been of Julia and how much she was depicted in the media as a fool or a witch or whatever careless stereotype they threw on her," Livesey tells me. "As RuPaul would tell anyone tackling Snatch Game, you’ve gotta approach it with love. So that’s the avenue I’ve been going down. For me it’s been walking a fine line between her passion and her dorkiness. As a duo they’re a dream to write and play. The corporate lawyer from the Adelaide Hills and the head girl from Unley High make for a very entertaining odd couple!"
1. If you had to name your child after a vegetable what would it be?
Esther: Mung Bean
Patrick: Sweet Potato
2. Which reality TV show would you most like to appear/compete on?
Esther: Survivor .
Patrick: The Mole! Bring it back.
3. A movie that sums up my life is
Esther: Napoleon Dynamite
Patrick: Suddenly 30
4. What's the one thing that happened during a show you were involved with that you wish you could forget?
Esther: I think I’ve forgotten already.
Patrick: In my second year of study I had to begin a very dramatic and very intense play by running out and announcing the death of my best friend. We were performing for our company (a very big deal) and I ran out and fell straight on my ass.
5. Art is
Esther: the freakin' best.
Patrick: a bitch.
Venue: Trades Hall, Cnr Lygon & Victoria Sts, Carlton.
Season: 12 - 29 September | Tues - Sat 8:30pm, Sun 7:30pm
Length: 50 minutes
Tickets: $25 Full | $22 Conc and Group 6+ | $20 Cheap Tuesday
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival
Image Credits: Jack Dixon-Gunn