Agatha Christie does Don’s Party. That’s the vibe of Robert Gott’s deliriously funny Naked Ambition, which spins the all-too-recognisable egomania of today’s political class into a wickedly good farce.
Ambitious minister Gregory Buchanan is on the verge of becoming a really big deal when a cabinet colleague’s unfortunate imbroglio upgrades him from the Transport portfolio to Education. Only Gregory, likewise, can’t quite keep it in his pants. Not a sex scandal, as such. For some inexplicable reason, he has allowed himself to be painted in the full-frontal nude by impressive artist Sophie White, who has her eye on the Archibald Prize. Gregory’s PR executivewife Phoebe can only focus on his outsized painted penis.
While she can grasp the imminent end of his career, Gregory can only waffle on about legacy, the centrality of culture and the painting being a homage to Bronzino’s considerably more clothed Portrait of a Young Man. “Phoebe knew that Gregory was teetering on the edge of saying ‘chiaroscuro’ in an affected Italian accent, and she thought she’d run screaming from the room if he did.”
The first in a triptych of parts, not unlike the three acts of a play, is constantly interrupted by new arrivals heralded by the Buchanans’ nerve-shredding doorbell. One by one, Gregory’s feisty lush of a mother, Margaret, his lesbian sister, Sally, Phoebe’s fundamental creationist mother, Joyce, and more show up in an increasingly crowded room presided over by that eye-opening painting. Joyce thinks it’s the devil’s work. When the state premier, Louisa, shows up, she thinks it’s a dolt’s effort, with Gregory’s spectacularly vain naivety threatening to sabotage an impending and down-to-the-wire election.
Gott’s page-turning chamber piece runs on sniping dialogue and sexual innuendo, stitched in with political opinion that would make David Williamson proud. A Poirot-like crime that, of course, fingers everyone in the room turboboosts the plot. Pretty soon, that’s a lot of people. Packed with political truisms such as “Australians don’t like their politicians with their clothes on” and “the scrotum is not a vote winner”, the recriminations fly thick and fast as a fresh scandal that cannot be brushed under the carpet brews. Gott keeps a remarkable grip on the madness, eliciting guffaws from a repeated call-back about the clack of a Lycra-clad Sally’s bike shoes. Saucy and seemingly silly, Naked Ambition is savagely witty and should win your vote.
Scribe, 256pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 6, 2023 as "Naked Ambition".
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