Australia has a longstanding affair with the steamy Indonesian island of Bali, but things are about to got a whole lot steamier with the world premiere of the musical Rhonda and Ketut.

Bali high. Visual brilliance by the always awesome Vincent Vergara

Rhonda and Ketut is a triumph. Director James Cameron of Avatar and Titanic fame has cast aside his renowned array of special effects in his stage debut, delivering a show with a surprisingly light touch which is heartwarming, melodramatic and several other theatre adjectives.

Originally intended as a sequel to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, the Rhonda and Ketut script lay idle in a dusty bottom drawer of the Bali Repertory Theatre Company, only to be uncovered by an employee of an ad agency working for a car insurance company who needed to use the bathroom.

From such small moments of happenstance are theatrical legends made.

Rhonda and Ketut, the two eponymous protagonists of this bittersweet tragicomedy, are different people from radically different worlds. Like Romeo and Juliet, and Steph and Kobe, theirs is an impossible affair.

Great theatre, of course, is built on such tension. Thus, from the moment Rhonda snuggles into her banana chair on the sandy shore of a Balinese luxury resort, it is clear that her romance with Ketut is as inevitable as it is doomed.

Hugh Jackman is at his suave best in the role of Ketut, bringing pathos, bathos and tight bathers to his role. Magda Szubanski is brilliant as Rhonda, a fading beauty with an embarrassing sunglasses tan hoping for one final fling.

As Rhonda luxuriates in the opulence enabled by her wise purchase of cheap car insurance, Ketut toils away catering to her every whim. The name “Ketut” means fourth-born in the local dialect, and fourth born Balinese children are traditionally given menial jobs like winding beach umbrellas up and down.

Rhonda knows Ketut yearns for more. Ketut knows Rhonda has her yearnings too.

Things come to a head one moonlight night as the cautious couple stroll along the sands of Kuta Beach. A muscular blond surfer from Burleigh heads, played with flawless petulance by Eddie Perfect, confronts the duo.

A fist fight ensues, and the consequences are dramatic. Our lovers realise that theirs is a love which will forever remain unconsummated, and they part on AAMIable terms.

The relationship of Rhonda and Ketut is of course a metaphor for the enduring affair between Australians and Bali. That relationship fell on testing times with events like the Bali Bombings and the Schapelle Corby trial, yet has survived.

In a similar vein, you sense there’ll be countless more middle-aged drivers and hot young Balinese umbrella winder-uppers to renew the passion that foundered on love’s sharp rocks.

A rousing soundtrack from Cold Chisel completes the sensual feast. Crowd are certain to thrill to hits like Flame Trees, and Breakfast at Sweethearts and Choir Girl. Perhaps the greatest scene of the entire show is when a broken-hearted Ketut consoles himself to the strains of Cheap Wine.

Too many theatrical experiences in the contemporary arts world dwell in the realm of the fantastical, or in the dim past. This is a story for us, and a story that matters now. It is high art with Bintang singlets, braided hair and Havaiana thongs.

As an early indication that this will be a theatrical sensation, Victorian premier Ted Baillieu entered a bidding war with his NSW counterpart Barry O’Farrell for the right to host the lavish production in their respective cities.

In the end, it came down to a contest to see who could say “Eyes on the road Rhonda” most convincingly. The two couldn’t be split, so it then came down to a contest to say the classic Rhonda catchphrase “You’re Naughty”. Mr Baillieu won.

Twitter: @antsharwood

Rhonda and Ketut: The Musical opens this weekend at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Tickets $140. Contact Ticketmaster on 1300 111 011.

Most commented


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    • Tim says:

      11:45am | 15/08/12

      Beautiful Brake Foot.

    • nihonin says:

      11:55am | 15/08/12

      Give us a ‘brake’..............please Ant.

    • Inky says:

      11:58am | 15/08/12

      I thought this was another of your jokes Ant, then I saw the part at the bottom with TIcketmaster details. I’m so confused.

    • Wayne says:

      12:29pm | 15/08/12

      Ditto.  I thought it was a rather long winded joke, and was disappointed when there wasn’t a punchline….

    • Anthony Sharwood

      Anthony Sharwood says:

      01:46pm | 15/08/12

      Ummm, guys…..

    • Inky says:

      02:58pm | 15/08/12

      I’m guessing I need to have read the book to follow the story?

    • Matchofbris says:

      03:21pm | 15/08/12

      Ere’day I’m Derping. DERPderpDERPderpDERPDERP!

    • Another Chris says:

      04:17pm | 15/08/12

      ermhagerrrdd….kerturrt…messeerge meh break fuuuurrrtt

    • Mahhrat says:

      11:59am | 15/08/12

      Is a successful ad campaign not one we talk about?  Good stuff.

    • Audra Blue says:

      11:59am | 15/08/12

      I didn’t understand any of that.  Who are these people?  Is this for real?

    • Sad Sad Reality says:

      12:06pm | 15/08/12

      This Punch advertorial is brought to you by…

    • Glen says:

      12:08pm | 15/08/12

      Meanwhile, at Punch HQ, Ant rises, rolls back his chair and thatrically strolls to the door.  As he rounds the corner he quips over his shoulder “My work here is done”.


    • Matchofbris says:

      12:12pm | 15/08/12

      I’ve hated that AAMI ad since I first saw it. So so so terribad.

    • iansand says:

      02:02pm | 15/08/12

      Now if Rhonda had done a Leda with Ketut dressed as a black swan while falling through a car sunroof ....  THAT would be a show worth watching.

    • Matchofbris says:

      03:19pm | 15/08/12

      LOL, I’d pay more premiums for them to make THAT ad!

    • TJ Wylde says:

      01:49pm | 15/08/12

      Is is funny that in a place like bali where sex tourism caters for all other genders,,it seems to me that everyone is happy to accept that Ketut could be a Kuta Cowboy and Rhonda is paying for sex,, seems a little weird to me.

    • fml says:

      03:59pm | 15/08/12

      It doesn’t imply anything of the sort, its just a bit of harmless holiday flirting.

    • Tony says:

      01:50pm | 15/08/12

      I can understand that every woman would like a cocktail on the beach, whilst being pampered by an exotic, muscular, and considerate young local man. I do, however, object to him giving Rhonda the forks half way through this very short production. I hope they write a Second Act in which they explore the ambivalence revealed by Ketut in his gesture. His frustration at being a lowly-paid employee of a rich resort owned by multinationals mirrors the frustration of many Australians at paying out so much for so little to multinational insurance companies. AAMI is owned by the Queensland-based Suncorp and this Musical is surely a clever allegory on the evils of placing insurance with multinationals.

    • daf says:

      05:49pm | 15/08/12

      Gawd!!  You must be a psycologist.  Wow!

    • AFR says:

      01:51pm | 15/08/12

      And now, the V8s are heading to Bali. it’s a match made in bogan heaven!

    • just me says:

      03:02pm | 15/08/12

      however the ad isn’t even filmed in Bali and Ketut lives in Melbourne with his Australian girlfriend…

    • iansand says:

      04:30pm | 15/08/12

      Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!  You mean something on TV is not true!?!?

    • Baloo says:

      04:36pm | 15/08/12

      Yeah..Rhonda.. duhh

    • Tony says:

      07:49pm | 15/08/12

      I heard that Ketut was the father of Schapelle Corby’s two-headed love child and that Rhonda had only maintained her Rating One by stealing the identity of an elderly Australian woman she buried in a shallow grave near Kuta Beach. Now I don’t know what to believe.

    • Susan says:

      03:24pm | 15/08/12

      I didn’t see any romance between them at all. This feels like typical social media marketing and a major advertorial.  WHEN did news outlets start becoming marketing avenues in this sort of form?  It seems to have snuck up on us and now won’t let go.

    • Stephanie Warren says:

      03:46pm | 15/08/12

      As I saw on a t shirt in Bali last week “Nice break fruit, Rhonda”. Hey people! Get a life! I think this is fantastic! Wish I’d thought of it. Looking forward to the sequel.

    • Caedrel says:

      03:58pm | 15/08/12

      I think it’s nice that we’ve had a series of connected ads rather than just the same ad repeated ad nauseum… Rhonda seems to be doing pretty well for herself in the commercial space, although I’m not sure if it’s a step up from “Thank God You’re Here”...

    • Sarah says:

      12:44pm | 16/08/12

      @caedrel - Rhonda will be back on our screens soon on Channel 9. She will be starring as Kerry Packers assistant in Howzat!! Not sure when it starts though…

    • YouDotty says:

      04:03pm | 15/08/12

      Wow… Just wow.

    • Esteban says:

      04:42pm | 15/08/12

      Without sufficient time for character development or protaganist/antagonist tension the short story script writer has to rely heavily on irony.

      Yet here is the great failure of this work when the final and memorable, shall we say delicious irony is sadly missing in this work.

      yet perhaps the absence of the final predictable irony is indeed the unique and genius irony after all.

      Is that interval ?

    • SD says:

      05:17pm | 15/08/12

      Does nothing to make me think of car insurance but is a great ad for Bali and avoid g sun burn. Noooooo! Not again!?

    • SD says:

      05:30pm | 15/08/12

      One thing in that ad is true, that ‘doong doong’ music pretty much follows your every move. You can be In the middle of nowhere thinking you’re free and yet…. ‘doong doong’. Ahhh! I got home and only then did I realize how much my senses had been tortured. There seemed to be nothing but Chisel and Bon Jovi on the radio, in malls or anywhere publicly playing music. And it was heaven!

    • Johnno says:

      11:50pm | 15/08/12

      You have to love Rhonda “I was looking for something more exotic” What - Bali?
      Cool how Rhonda accepts an unsolicited possibly arak based drink from Ketut too!

    • fml says:

      08:24am | 16/08/12

      Im pretty sure he works at the hotel.

    • Lady Gaga says:

      08:33am | 16/08/12

      Thank God for the ABC and endless repeats of Miss Marple.  Switch over Ant!

    • LaDiva says:

      10:02am | 16/08/12

      Whatever happened to the old bloke and his young son from the Telstra Bigpond ads? Wasn’t there going to be a film made with them based on these ads?

      Emporer Nasi Goreng. Pure gold.

    • LaDiva says:

      10:04am | 16/08/12

      Whatever happened to the old bloke and his young son from the Telstra Bigpond ads? Wasn’t there going to be a film made with them based on these ads?

      Emporer Nasi Goreng. Pure gold.

    • kitteh says:

      11:19am | 16/08/12

      I miss Bankworld Barbara, personally.

    • Cluce says:

      04:10pm | 16/08/12

      I thought Rhonda belonged to the lady (who resembles the dame from “South Pacific”) who was massaging her feet!! Now, there’s a sequel: Ketut and “the dame” vying for Rhonda’s affection!!!

    • Swamp Thing says:

      04:16pm | 16/08/12

      Bah, I hate this ad! Every drop of the hat during the footy -“always wanted to do someone exotic” blah blah whiney voice Ranga Rhonda.
      We all know that her hubby feels the same & is at home knocking off a tranny as she speaks. Howzat for exotic Rhonda?

    • Tony says:

      07:04pm | 16/08/12

      Ketut’s next menial and underpaid employment: in the AAMI Call Centre when it is outsourced to Indonesia.

    • RR says:

      10:28pm | 16/08/12

      ahhh I remember the coffee ads - 2 people so in loooove getting to know each other over coffee…......did they ever get it on I wonder!!

    • Claude says:

      04:02am | 17/08/12

      Bali : Every Australian bogan ‘s getaway idea for an OVERSEAS island paradise dream!  To fly there in cattle -class Jetstar….  and reach Asia’s version of local Broadmeadows, but with palm trees.


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