First things first, the audience loved it. As Julia Gillard, in a performance that blended naturalism and impersonation, Justine Clarke held the crowd in the palm of her hand. They swooned and sighed to the wholesome depiction of Gillard’s working-class Welsh parents and cackled at the pleasurable jokes made at the expense of Kevin Rudd, Mark Latham, and John Howard. And when Julia wrestled with her conscience over the policy compromises of her government – the refusal of same-sex marriage, the resumption of offshore processing for asylum seekers, the reduction of the single-mother benefit – the audience was encouraged to see that such disappointments were the cost of doing business in a dirty game.
That the audience accepted this mitigation became clear at the rapturous reception afforded Clarke’s performance of Gillard’s famous misogyny speech at the end of the play. The speech enabled the apotheosis of Julia. At the show’s conclusion, Gillard has become the shoulder-padded saint of women working in a man’s world. She is sung off by a choir of young denim-wearing angels. In spite of the sins she may have committed on her path to canonisation, the searing speech is the miracle that proves her sanctity.