The Wharf Revue. Celebrating 15 Years. Written and devised by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott. Featuring Amanda Bishop. Musical director Phillip Scott. Sydney Theatre Company. The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre. Until September 26. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au.
From humble beginnings, conceived on a coaster at the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf Theatre, The Wharf Revue has grown into a sparkling beacon of side-splitting, sacred cow-scorning satire. Nothing is spared the searing wit and irreverent debunking of our political icons. This year, creators Jonathan Biggins, Phillip Scott and Drew Forsythe, accompanied by the amazing Amanda Bishop, celebrate 15 years of lampooning politicians, exposing the foibles of federal politics and leaving no folly unscathed. Barry Searle's Loony Tunes stage design sets the scene for a madcap, stylishly executed mish-mash of political mayhem and bitter-sweet caricature. The crackerjack pace of each revue sketch is supported by David Bergman's video and sound design and Todd Dekker's video art, allowing time for lightning speed changes into Scott Fisher and Leonie Grace's costumes.
This year's revue offers audiences a retrospective glimpse of selected highlights from previous productions. Scott as Fuhrer Howard, Bishop as Jeanette, Biggins as Costello and Forsythe as Downer offer an expressionistic impression of John Howard's political demise in The Howard Bunker. Biggins cuts a ridiculous figure as Mark Latham in The Latham Diaries. On screen Forsyth depicts a befuddled Barry Jones caught in a tangled explanation of factional confusion in Laboring the Past.
Sketch after sketch sweeps along on a rollercoaster ride of derision. The economic debacle in Greece inspires a Zorba-style rendition of Scott's reworked Greased Lightning in Greek Lightning with Biggins and Bishop. A brilliantly performed appropriation of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood recounts Julia Gillard's departure from her homeland. "I carry a lot of weight" Clive Palmer (Biggins) and Gina Rinehart (Forsythe) sing in a familiar duet as their Titanic sinks beneath the waves.
Reworded lyrics to familiar musical numbers from Grease, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables are ready fodder for the team's ingenuity. Pianist supremo Scott channels an egomaniacal Rudd in Phantom, only to be violently backstabbed by a frenetic Gillard (Bishop) during The Culling Season. Les Liberales (Biggins, Forsythe and Bishop) become tangled in a web of prohibitive regulations in their futile attempt to storm the barricades.
Too many to mention, each sketch in this scintillating, sharply targeted mockery of political shenanigans hits its mark with bull's-eye accuracy. At times ironic, at others sardonic, parody and ridicule evoke gales of laughter from an audience at the epicentre of federal politics with all its machinations.
Keyboard supremo Scott brings the house down with his tutu-toting Arts Minister Brandis' rendition of the slush-funded Song of Excellence. Forsythe's Hawke and Biggins' Keating present a picture of comical pathos in their nursing home lament. Bishop's chameleon ability to capture the essence of her characters shines in her Gillard, Alberici, Crabbe and Bishop.
Together, the formidable four of fearless satire delight with their dazzling display of versatility and an unfailing skill to hold the mirror up to absurdity and ultimately our insignificance in the universal scheme of things.
In the light of recent dramatic events upon the federal political stage, the challenge for satirists is to swiftly accommodate surprising changes and the Wharf team has seamlessly incorporated the demise of Abbott (Scott) with the rise of Turnbull (Forsythe) and the canny survival of Bishop (Bishop). The Wharf Revue. Celebrating 15 Years is the hottest ticket in town. Don't let it slip through your fingers.