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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Julia (STC and Canberra Theatre Centre) at Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House - 90 minutes

Brilliantly performed by Justine Clarke who, as the 27th Australian Prime Minister, displays determination, indignance and frustration, I would suggest one’s political predilection will have a fair say in how Joanna Murray-Smith’s words go down.

As the writer, the latter has combined fact and fiction. She has taken incendiary language from shock jocks, political opponents and allies to heighten the drama and included liberal use of the “F” word.

In so doing, she has effectively crafted a love letter to Julia Gillard.

Photos by Prudence Upton

Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it is not a bad idea to know what you are buying into.

As this country’s first female leader, Gillard had to put up with far more than her male counterparts.

I refer to blatant misogyny … and more.

As seen in this play, she was frequently referred to by her first name, showing a lack of respect.

She was called out for her appearance, for her choice of clothing, for her unmarried status and her decision not to have children, let alone for her political choices.

In a famous retort during Question Time in Parliament to a motion put by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Ms Gillard gave far more than she got.

Julia, the production, leads up to that moment, nearly two years and four months after she was elected unopposed as Prime Minister.

That was, of course, after her predecessor Kevin Rudd saw the writing on the wall and stood down.

The piece goes into Gillard’s upbringing, the values her parents taught her, those who influenced her, her qualities as a debater and how she arrived at her decision to study law.

In the process, Clarke cleverly adopts various "characters' " accents.

There is also humour injected into the work through Murray-Smith’s astute observations of the political cauldron.

It is clear that once she began moving up the political ladder, Gillard had her eyes on the top prize, even though she told commentators otherwise.

But there is a telling moment on the night she is elected to the top job and another in what the former Prime Minister Paul Keating subsequently said to her.

Mainly on stage alone, on several occasions Clarke interacts with a young woman (Jessica Bentley).

From time to time, the latter brings simple props onto the bare stage and even participates in a short dance sequence, while responding to Gillard’s towering address at the end of the production.

Video footage is another device used by director Sarah Goodes to enliven proceedings and provide visual appeal, as 90 minutes is a long time to spend on stage ostensibly by oneself.

An interest in and appreciation of politics would, no doubt, be of benefit, but, regardless, the way Clarke carries herself throughout – her delivery style, her affectations, her confidence and zest – is infectious.

She carries us on a journey and I applaud her efforts in what is undoubtedly an emotionally taxing role.

Directed by Sarah Goodes, Julia is on at Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, until 13th May, 2023.


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