The Wharf Revue 2016: Back to Bite You. Written and Created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott. Musical director Phillip Scott. The Sydney Theatre Company. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. September 13-17, 20-24. canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.
The core team of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott is back for another instalment of the long-running institution that is The Wharf Revue. In 2016's offering, Back to Bite You, there will be plenty of well-known figures from the political and public spheres appearing on stage in caricatured form to cop a serve, many of them familiar from previous years.
But one "character" who won't be in this year's revue, Scott says, is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, though there will be a sketch set in ancient Rome about political scheming.
"He's mentioned a fair bit, but he doesn't make an appearance," Scott says.
Do the Wharfsters know something the rest of us don't, or are they just playing the odds, given recent history?
Whatever the case, while this might be a Turnbull-free zone, there are plenty of others who will be bitten. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten receives a My Fair Lady-style elocution lesson to improve his diction and, Scott says, after the recent federal election result, "I'm playing George Brandis in a couple of bits, trying to get [Jacqui] Lambie and [Pauline] Hanson on side."
The Brexit vote is transformed into Carry On Up the Exit with the cast members parodying the likes of Sid James, Kenneth Williams and Hatty Jacques in a take-off the long-running British Carry On comedy movie series.
And Greens leader Richard Di Natale extols The Power of Green (to the tune of The Rhythm of Life from Sweet Charity).
As usual, The Wharf Revue is constantly a work in progress, with changes being made during the season.
"We're always honing it," Scott says. "Our main focus is to get it nice and tight, trimming excess stuff."
At least the election is over this time: some years they've been forced to do considerable rewriting mid-run when a change of government occurred while the show was playing.
Joining the original trio in bringing laughs is a newcomer. Katrina Retallick is playing many roles including such well-known figures as Deputy Prime Minister Julie Bishop and US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, who channels Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl with a version of Don't Rain On My Parade.
There are some original characters, too, including Tammy the Tolerance Turtle in a skit called Disney on ISIS. "It's about tolerating other religions," she says. "It's pretty dark comedy."
Although this is her first Wharf Revue, Retallick – who grew up in Wagga Wagga and studied acting at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London – has had a considerable performing career to prepare her. Her musical theatre credits include The Addams Family and I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change and she spent four seasons on Channel Nine's Comedy Inc. "I did a lot of impersonations on there though I wouldn't call myself an expert."
She says she has "big shoes to fill" with memories of Amanda Bishop still looming large – the latter will be making a video appearance in her best-known Wharf Revue role as former prime minister Julia Gillard – but she's not daunted. "There's a certain level of responsibility to it, but it's a lot of fun."
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