Julia

by | Jun 7, 2024

By Chenoah Eljan

Joanne Murray-Smith’s Julia is captivating storytelling. Better yet, as much as you think it’s a story you already know: it is not. Yes, you know the sound bites and the haircuts and the oft repeated party lines. But this play is the energy, the emotion, the frantic paddling under the surface that Gillard herself is so adept at never allowing the world to glimpse. Justine Clarke is a force deserving of all the superlatives: outstanding, phenomenal, spellbinding, extraordinary. These accolades seem shallow compared to the depth and breadth and mind-blowing variety and nuance she brings to this performance, no doubt in large part thanks to detailed direction from Sarah Goodes. Stop reading now and buy your tickets. Your views on politics and Australia’s first female prime minister are irrelevant, this is a play that is so much more than its subject – it is craft and artistry of the highest order.

Every element of this show feels deliberate and well considered. It’s a one woman show with two women. Not just because Jessica Bentley is needed to move around a few flowerpots and bring out a chair from time to time (or a water bottle – only twice! – for Clarke) but because Goodes wants it right in her audience’s face that Gillard is not a protagonist, she is a woman coming after the women before her and making way for the women to come. In many ways, Julia is not a biography but more a portrait of Australian womanhood. And that is why, as beautiful and energising as this play is, it leaves the audience deeply sad. The events it depicts all happened twelve or more years ago and instead of being shocked and ashamed of how women were treated all those years ago we are struck with just how little has changed. Last year in Australia, one woman was killed every eleven days by her intimate partner. Women earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. You’re bored; as Murray-Smith correctly point outs: sexism is boring, so why do we keep talking about it?

The sheer brilliance that is the trifecta of Murray-Smith, Goodes and Clarke is anything but boring. And yet, it provokes a conversation we need to have, and must continue to have, whether we like it or not. But there is everything to like about this play. Every moment is perfect and important and sucks you in to a vortex of humour and history and ambition. This play is ambition, and it delivers. Gillard passed 570 bills as prime minister. She got things done. Theatre and art and inspiration get things done too: they dress up confronting realities in entertainment and engagement and force us to look when we have all become far too accustomed to averting our eyes.

Image: Prudence Upton

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