The Dismissal – a musical about a political farce

The Dismissal – a musical about a political farce

It’s a moment in Australia’s history that has scorched itself into our psyche. The sacking of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975 was the pinnacle of a turbulent period in politics which threatened the stability of our constitution, challenged our allegiance to the British Crown, and questioned the very notion of democracy.

It sounds like the perfect setting for a musical, right?

Director/actor/writer, Jay James-Moody certainly thought so and he managed to convince Blake Erickson to co-write the book and the incredibly talented Laura Murphy to write the songs.

THE DISMISSAL – Andrew Cutcliffe, Octavia Barron-Martin, Justin Smith & Matthew Whittet. Image by Harvey House Productions

“It is just such a witty idea,” says Murphy. “The story is so theatrical, the characters…[James-Moody] refers to it as a Shakespearean tragedy which I agree with in a lot of ways, except that obviously we’ve told it through an extremely comedic, silly, funny, lens.”

Murphy and James-Moody have known each other since they were 17 and have worked together professionally on several occasions. They have a very high regard for each other and know they share a similar passion for producing new Australian work.

The concept for The Dismissal had been churning in James-Moody’s head for quite some time but when he finally asked Murphy to write the music and lyrics he still didn’t have a script. It’s an unorthodox way to write a musical, but in this case, Murphy thought it made sense.

“The structure of the show was really led by the score…the score is obviously the key to the emotion and where the highs and lows and climaxes and tension releases are throughout the show.”

However, Murphy was not even born yet when the events of 1975 occurred, so it meant some very intensive research before she could begin. She made sure she consulted sources and opinions from both sides of politics, as well as thoroughly mining all the non-partisan information she could find.

Laura Murphy. Image: supplied

What she discovered was a rich assortment of personalities and stories; the songs practically wrote themselves. Junie Morosi, for instance, who was vilified by the media and public, and accused of being a spy, has been given a song with elements of a James Bond-style theme.

For Malcolm Fraser and members of the Liberal Party, Murphy wanted something that exemplified narcissism, affluence, a bit of pretention.

“I mean, they are private school boys, they were raised super privileged; they’re so entitled,” she explains. So she put them together as a boy band.

The music itself is a mixture of then and now.

“I definitely wanted to nod to the sights and the sounds of the time, so there’s definitely a bit of pub rock, Aussie rock, in there. I also wanted to infuse a little bit of contemporary music […] There’s some crooney jazz, there’s some Tom Waites influence, there’s subtle spy/007 influences. I didn’t want to be limited by anything, I just wanted to be inspired by the characters.”

Lyrically, there’s a lot of humour and, of course, quotes from some of the iconic speeches and comments made at the time.


Perhaps one of the most unexpected devices is the use of Norman Gunston as the narrator. Norman Gunston was a character created by Garry McDonald, instantly recognisable by the shiny blue satin jacket he always wore, the bits of paper stuck to shaving cuts on his face, and his greasy comb-over.

Gunston was a larrikin, a rogue reporter with cheeky, slap-stick routine. Interestingly, he was actually on the steps of Parliament House, directly behind Prime Minister Whitlam when that iconic speech was made.

Murphy has written extensively for musical projects, TV, kid’s entertainment and more. Her original musical, The Lovers, premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2022 to much critical and popular acclaim.

The Dismissal had a brief workshopping season at The Seymour Centre earlier this year and was equally acclaimed. Its upcoming official premiere is enthusiastically anticipated.

From August 26

Seymour Centre, Cnr City Rd and Cleveland St, Chippendale

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