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Review: Hillsong Boy at the Flying Nun

Updated: Apr 4

Review by Kate Gaul

Hillsong was first formed in 1983 by Brian and Bobbie Houston as the “decidedly functional, even dowdy” The Hills Christian Life Centre, in outer-suburban Sydney. Now one of Australia’s most recognisable Pentecostal megachurches, it has congregations and campuses across the globe.

In recent years, “unlikely king” Brian got widespread attention as a “close friend” of Scott Morrison, who had regularly attended Horizon Church, founded by a former Hillsong pastor, before he became Australia’s prime minister. Houston resigned in March 2022, after allegations of inappropriate conduct of “serious concern” with two women. In the same month, Hillsong was accused in Australia’s parliament of “fraud, money laundering and tax evasion”. Additionally, Houston was found not guilty of charges of covering up sexual abuse by his pastor father Frank, whom he described as a “serial paedophile”. (The court accepted Brian’s claim his father’s victim had asked him not to report to police.)

Since then, there have been two four-part documentary series, a book, podcast and an SBS documentary on Hillsong.  And now The Flying Nun and Robbi James present “Hillsong Boy” created by ex-Hillsonger and performer Scott Parker and director Felicity Nicol. Parker spent 20+ years in Hillsong and this is his reckoning.

In the foyer unfamiliar faces reveal themselves to be ex-Hillsongers ready to hear a familiar story - or as one person expressed “trauma – healing – trauma.”

The production starts with Parker singing to a backing track.  Hillsong is known for its alluring Christian Rock and although it’s not clear if Parker is a singing sensation of the church if this is a fantasy or we are in the church.  There are the occasional projected flashes of the ecstatic Hillsong audience in the mega arenas.  We are encouraged to sing along but we need some more support from the sound world to feel safe.  A slightly rocky start to proceedings. Projected diary entries and conversations with a mentor give us more context – this is a kid in the maelstrom of adolescence who is questioning his actions and feelings about sexuality and identity. It’s mostly normal stuff except for the frame of Hillsong – are we waiting for salacious details of corruption and shame?  Being part of the Hillsong church means your life is organised 24/7 and we begin to understand that these plans and programs are created to isolate church members from the rest of society.  There is zero tolerance of criticism or questions, a belief that the charismatic leaders are always right and have exclusive access to what is and valid and truthful.  Sounds like a cult.  Well, that’s where Scott Parker’s interpretation of the institution ends.

Felicity Nicol joins Parker onstage as a kind of in-depth interviewer with questions of ever-increasing intensity.  Its funny at times and Parker is a charmer and portrays the wide-eyed innocence of the youngster with ease. He talks about his music and what it means to him.  As an older teen he participates in and exorcism which (darkly and hilariously) involved rubbing supermarket oil on the bodies of other teens (in the dark, of course).  He longs and lusts to rub bodies with Daddy God and as his music becomes more frenzied.  He announces he is bisexual or pan sexual and that accepting his queerness transformed his life and gave him the resilience to fight back and eventually leave Hillsong.

Leaving Hillsong has consequences – for his relationship with his family, his church friends, and his relationship to God.  There is great material here to mine but this first outing of the work leaves us blowing in the wind and we never really get to the nub of anything beyond the allure of Hillsong and what hooks young people in.  There is more work planned and getting “Hillsong Boy” in front of an audience is an important step on the way. It will be terrific if it can deep dive beyond the shop front crazy of the cult into a bolder investigation of faith, human behaviour, and identity.

Collaborators include consummate Lighting Designer Benjamin Brockman who provides atmosphere and the requisite dazzle for a depiction of the Hillsong years.  Composer and sound designer Kathryn Parker gives us a rich palette of both real world and atmospheric sounds to support the story.  I eagerly await the next iteration.

Image Supplied


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