The Wharf Revue 2018: Deja Revue. Written and created by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe. Musical director: Andrew Warboys. Sydney Theatre Company. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. October 23-November 3. canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.
Stepping into a show at perilously short notice when an actor is suddenly taken sick or injured is a show business cliche. But it does happen.
Simon Burke says when that very situation arose during this year's edition of The Wharf Revue, it gave him the opportunity to do something he'd never done in his long career: join a show at the last minute.
It happened a couple of weeks ago just as he was finishing a run in a play in Sydney.
Burke says, "I was contracted to do [the revue] next year when the Sydney Theatre Company announced that due to illness, Drew Forsythe had to pull out for six weeks ... They asked, 'Can you get a plane down?''
For a few days, he says, the Melbourne season had had to resort to an actor reading from a script on stage. Although The Wharf Revue is a comedy, this was no laughing matter.
Since Burke had been in the show before, in 2013, he knew the creators and their way of working. And he was now available.
"It was a bit of a unique challenge," he says.
So down Burke came. He learned and rehearsed all of Forsythe's roles over a hectic few days before the show reopened for its next week of performances and nailed them.
He will be coming with the show to Canberra and continue on the rest of the tour until it arrives in Sydney, where Forsythe intends to return.
The longrunning Wharf Revue satirises politics and society in Australia and around the world. This year's subtitle, Deja Revue, evokes the sense that although names and faces and specifics may change, many of the underlying issues remain the same.
Forsythe and Jonathan Biggins write the show (original co-creator and performer Phil Scott having retired) and this year musical theatre star Rachael Beck and Douglas Hansell (another previous Wharfee, in 2014) are also in the cast with Andrew Warboys as musical director.
Burke says, "You'll see me as Eric Abetz, Christopher Pyne, and the Queen - that's probably my favourite: she's beautifully written, with unexpected warmth."
Her Majesty teams up with Silvio Berlusconi and Vladimir Putin ("There can't be a more devious trio to play") to go up against Biggins' President Donald Trump.
There's a retelling of Cinderella with Malcolm Turnbull as the title character, Scott Morrison as Prince Charmless and Tony Abbott as the wicked stepmother and a musical-theatre parody, The Book of Cormann, which, as the title suggests, focuses on the Finance Minister. Small Business Minister Michaelia Cash ("Rachael Beck does her beautifully") and former National Party leader Barnaby Joyce are among the others who come in for serves.
Burke has been acting since he was 12. He won the Australian Film Institute Award as best actor for the film The Devil's Playground (1976) when he was 13 and says, "I didn't train as an actor - I just kept going."
He's had a busy career on stage and screen and has previously said if he hadn't been an actor he might have gone into politics.
"I am a bit of a political nerd," he says. It seems like The Wharf Revue 2018: Deja Vu is a good fit. He's particularly fascinated by American politics at the moment and says, "I spend more time with [MSNBC host and commentator] Rachel Maddow than anyone else."
As president of Equity for 10 years he often entered the political sphere but, he says, that's as far as it goes (apart from The Wharf Revue, obviously).
"I have no political ambitions."
But now, at least, he knows just how much he is capable of as an actor, having, quite literally, saved a show.