The Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue

The Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue
Written and created by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe. Sydney Theatre Company. Riverside Theatres Parramatta, September 13 – 15, 2018, and touring.

The 2018 Wharf Revue is hitting the road from Parramatta – and why not? It’s the cultural hub of the West; a host of faithful followers have almost booked out the first three-nights of the tour; and Riverside audiences are more than receptive to political satire – they have a Powerhouse of puns to prove it! What better place to perfect its topical pace before the Revue makes its way to the Wharf in November via Penrith, Nunawading, Belrose, Wollongong, Canberra and Wagga Wagga! 

This year’s cast no longer includes the multi-talented Phil Scott, who has been the musical muse of the team since its beginning on a makeshift set at Wharf 2 over 15 years ago. His flying fingers on the keyboard, pithy parodies and impish impressions of the longest serving prime minister since Menzies were highlights of revues past – and it doesn’t seem quite the same without him. You are missed, Mr Scott!

Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe, however, remain as the indomitable backbone of the show, their political perception and unbounded energy underwriting a revue that continues to be satirically hard-hitting. They are joined this year by Rachel Beck, Douglas Hansell and musical director Andrew Worboys, in a performance that lampoons state, federal and international politics in the cleverest ways possible.

Imagine Malcolm Turnbull as a page-boy Cinderella on a pantomime set of pale pink striped canopies. Imagine Forsythe as the ugly step mother Abbott, complete with red and yellow frilly lifesaver bonnet. This ‘fairy tale’ rise to power in a panto-style sees Hansell as the dark Prince Dutton, and Rachel Beck as the immediate past PM as she tells of her fate: “Fair weather friends, That’s how it ends … Fallen from grace, Slapped in the face, Poor little me”.

This sets the pace for a scaffold of skits and sketches, not all of them political. The five performers, dressed in plastic body suits and caps, form a plastic percussion orchestra on drums of green garbage tins. Using a variety of plastic ‘drumsticks’ – bottles, toys, tubing –and an alliterative rhythmic rap, they trace the expanding uses of plastics … and the deplorable effects of plastic waste. Serious satire – and one that would transfer well to the small screen in the War on Waste.

NSW transport cops a blow with Beck as Berejiklian in visi-vest and hard hat. All four men in white shirts, blue ties, grey trousers are Mathias with mobiles in The Book of Cormann. The Labor Caucus Room is punished in a policy-pondering pasting to “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat”. Hansell uses the songs of Johnny Cash to send up a year of hubris for Barnaby Joyce. Biggins and Beck play Bob Brown and Sarah Hanson-Young in a reprise-with-new words of Biggins’ popular “Green Ban” rap. Beck does a beautiful impersonation of Michaelia Cash: ‘I am loud, I am brash, I was born with a tongue that can lash.’And Forsythe takes Pauline Hanson through a “misconscrewed” maze of mispronunciations and malapropisms.

Then they go international, with Beck as both Melania Trump and Stormy Daniels and Biggins in a bigger and better wig trumping the US President as he tries to convince Forsythe, a suave Putin, and Hansell, a sexy Silvio Berlusconi,to let him into their leadership club. Drew Forsythe draws the overseas empire together as a very slow and dignified Queen, with Beck as her groveling Prime Minister.

Fast costume and character changes work faultlessly and dance routines are executed with funny finesse – especially a restoration-style gavotte by Beck and Hansell. But it is the music that causes some concern. Along with the clever impersonations, the witty repartee and parodies are intrinsic to this sort of revue – and it’s no good if they are drowned by backing that is so loudly amplified that it drowns the voices. Turn the amps down a bit please and let the words resound!

Carol Wimmer

Image: Drew Forsythe and Jonathan Biggins in Sydney Theatre Company’s production of The Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue © Brett Boardman.

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