If only. Commercial soapies have a beginning, middle and, most importantly, an end. Will Labor's? I doubt it. At least until an Abbott government is installed, anyway . . .
GOTTERDAMMERUNG, OR “TWILIGHT OF THE GODS”
Being an Opera in three acts, set in Washington and Canberra. Any resemblance to any person, either alive or politically swinging in the breeze, is purely coincidental.
Thick velvet curtains drawback revealing Julia Gillard standing alone, centre stage, singing her solo “o sole mio, just moving forward". Unfortunately it soon becomes apparent that Kevin Rudd is attempting to sing his solo, “I am the one" at the same time. He keeps throwing shoes at the control booth whenever the spotlight shifts away. So does Julia. A noisy kerfuffle ensues.
Soon a hazy mist envelops the stage. The audience can see from a calendar hanging on the wall that we have returned to a weekend in October 2011; the place, Washington. Kevin likes to save money by staying with the local ambassador but forewarned, Kim Beazley has already departed to spend the weekend in New York. The scene where the two former Labor leaders bump into each other in the morning as they go to the bathroom is too painful to be preformed. Instead, Kevin has a meeting scheduled with Henry Kissinger. He engages in a long soliloquy, “all I need is another fortnight and I'll have the numbers". Henry turns to his factotum, demanding to know “exactly who is this guy, again?"
A journalist enters the now smoke-filled room belching loudly. He’s greeted by one of the number men. “Maate. Now look, this is just for your eyes only, OK. Have a decka at this.” He passes over a list of caucus members listed as ‘for Kevin’. The journalist points out that it seems unlikely that even Julia is now supposedly ‘leaning towards’ Kevin. The apparatchik grabs back the list; scratches a name off, and then hands it back. “Maate, this is journalistic gold”, he insists. “And it’s true. Honest. All we need is another fortnight to get the numbers.”
A screen descends. Kevin is sitting behind a desk. He prepares to address the audience. “No, no, no! This is all wrong!" There is a long pause. “Fuck!" Another pause. “Get the bloke who wrote this and pull his fingernails out slowly, one by one, the way I used to take the wings off dragonflies when I was younger." It quickly becomes apparent to the audience that there is no personal resentment involved in these acerbic comments – it is merely a case of yet another person who has, regrettably, failed to measure up to Kevin’s appropriately high standards. He looks around. “This is meant to be a fucking soap opera, not the real thing," he adds. Technicians quickly enter, remove the proscenium arch and convert it into a box resembling a television screen.
The next Act returns to Washington. Instead of greeting Kim with a simple “hello”, Kevin can’t resist a subtle put-down, reinforcing just who’s the boss. “Working hard?” Kim forces a laugh. “Yes, yes,” but he smiles to himself. He’d been right. There’d been no need, last year, to pass on the questions Hilary had asked about the sword dangling over Kevin’s head.
At 1.30 am Washington time Kevin “suddenly” announces he’s holding a news conference. Amazingly, although they had no foreknowledge, astute journalists have already begun organising feeds to carry the broadcast in full. The news is accidently timed to hit the airwaves just before the nightly news bulletins go to air, providing maximum impact. “Goodness,” mutters a producer. “Its almost as if it had been planned in advance.”
Straight-faced, Kevin delivers his now famous line. “There is no way,” he insists, “that I will ever be party to a stealth attack on a sitting PM.” But the audience become confused. Some get up to leave. They hadn’t realised this was a comedy.
For the final Act the action – such as it is – returns to Canberra. Kevin’s supporting chorus is wavering. At first the only person who can be found to sing for him is an ageing, paid retainer and would-be electoral svengali who’s never even been elected to public office. Meanwhile there’s a cacophony on the other side while people jockey to step from the wings and criticise Kevin. “He’s been like that since school.” “That’s nothing. He was a nightmare as PM!” “Ha! He didn’t undermine you as badly as he by-passed me.” “Did too!” “Did not!” Caucus members wander around the stage, unsure exactly who is the enemy. Suddenly a trumpet blasts from behind.
Kevin has responded by deploying the only forces he has left: the Old Guard. First a gentlemanly Glaswegian begins keening a sadly plaintive mourning lament; then an enthusiastic, ageing car-hoon urgently rev’s his vehicle louder and louder. Never mind. Mar’n ‘Smokestack’ Ferguson is wheeled briefly on but, alas, no one can quite understand what he’s saying. Latham backer Robert ‘Lunch?’ McClelland, determined on revenge, speaks up. Did Julia ‘forget’ who his father was when she sacked him? Rather surprisingly (for a challenge that arrived out of the blue) it begins to look as if these responses have all been carefully scripted. Kevin’s backers have been allocated times to announce their dedications of “spontaneous” support for the Dear Leader.
Alas, not a single caucus vote changes. Desperate now, out in the street, Therese urges ‘people’ to contact their elected representatives and pressure them to vote for Kevin before they’re ‘pressured’ to vote for someone else. It’s a strategy born of anxiety – she’s come to the conclusion he still doesn’t have the votes to win. All he needs is another fortnight to get the numbers.
Good operas are about hubris and this one has it in spades. The audience suddenly realise the numbers will never – ever – be there. A spring enters Julia’s step. The enemy has, at last, been revealed. But then, Götterdämmerung, Twilight of the Gods. Kevin flicks his locks of hair from side to side, plants his hands on the columns holding up the House, and pushes. As he sings his final song, “there’s only one me”, the entire edifice collapses into dust.
Tony, meanwhile, was cloistered in the shadows.