An institution in Sydney theatre by now, The Wharf Revue, in its 15th year, opened this week at its home at the wharf theatres. This year, titled Open for Business, the troupe (consisting of Jonathan Biggins, Amanda Bishop, Phillip Scott, and Douglas Hansell, a newcomer this year – Drew Forsythe appears only briefly, on screen) regaled as usual with sketches skewering those in power, and those aren’t, but think they are.
With an Australian politics-inspired monopoly board doubling as the set (one of the classic railway squares is labeled ‘Badgerys Creek’, for instance) it’s classic Wharf Revue. Phil Scott scores the show with inspiration from Hairspray to Blurred Lines, giving the show a lively musical flair. You do, actually, really need to see Bob Brown dancing some disco-inspired moves. Who knew?
This year, the Wharf Revue is responding to a creeping sense of dread. At one point they stop to say, “You think it was bad under Johnny Howard? It’s only going to get worse,” and that is the fear that unites these scenes; fear that has bred derision and contempt. That point is made with a tap dance, thank goodness, because we all need to lighten the emotionally stressful load of our political future. The comedy wasn’t necessarily savage; at times the prods were more affectionate than they were biting. But that balance is forgivable considering a church-set sketch that’s something of a dirge, a mockery in its lyrics of the church’s handling of sexual abuse, but it ends on a note of true sadness. A bit of poignancy in a silly night of political humour.
If we’re in for a tough run with the Coalition in power, then the Wharf Revue is going to lambast the people who got us here, with a cruel budget and unconscionable treatment of asylum seekers and little political hope to be found; we’ll laugh at the Palmer United Party being coached through interview tactics by Clive, hampered by extreme stupidity, but we’ll be reminded at the same time that yes, these people have real political power.
In other words, it’s cathartic to laugh at Jacqui Lambie’s ridiculous statements, until you remember that they’re real.
Interstitial pre-filmed skits spiced up the flow of the evening and helped create a little more directorial excitement – especially when it gave us our glimpses of Dew Forsythe, who is currently attached to Strictly Ballroom and couldn’t be onstage; the Bunnings Warehouse commercials revisited as ‘savings’ and ‘cuts’ from the 2014 budget were especially spot on. So too was Forsythe’s take on Rupert Murdoch, who more than a little paid tribute to The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns.
Bishop brought back her Gillard and Biggins brought back his masterful Keating – these impersonations are so deeply observed and cleverly drawn that their appearances became the best of the night; this Keating is so correct by now that the cadence of quality of his dialogue is a delight even during the setup of a joke.
Bishop continues to be one of the most valuable things about the show, year on year. We got an operatic, Peta Credlin inspired sketch where she impressed vocally as well as comically; she also delivered a devastating torch song as Miranda Devine. Hansell has his own vocal prowess and that helped elevate the show – he fits in well with the group, particularly when taking on Christopher Pyne doing what else but saying his evening prayers?
The Wharf Revue is simply a good time. A good chance to feel like even if the country isn’t perfect, we’re not alone, and we’re certainly not alone in thinking things are wrong – or unbelievably stupid. It’s like catching up with an old friend for a well-earned laugh.