Pity the poor Wharf Revuers. Each and every year, they’re at the mercy of the political milieu. It’s an invidious place to be. What if no buffoonery should surface? No scandals be forthcoming?
Happily, the parliamentary landscape and beyond, to the big business horizon, still features plenty of both. The team comprises the usual suspects, in longstanding co-creators Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott, though Scott sees to have taken a step back from his performing and musical direction responsibilities, relinquishing the last to Andrew Worboys, whose quite a character in his own right. A couple of years back, Amanda Bishop joined the team and, now, Simon Burke. It’s a pretty solid and promising cast, you’d have to say. And that promise translates to one of the best Wharf Revues ever.
Entitled Whoops!, this year’s satirical shark attack begins with a familiar musical theme, adapted as The Abbott Family. Like a page out of an unwritten Jane Austen epic, inside a spooky house (it must be, given the contents), we encounter the old battle-axe, that indefatigable warhorse, Bronwyn, holding forth in her inimitably humourless style. For light, if not downright dainty, relief, enter Sir Petulant Pyne, the ultimate rat in the ranks. Someone set the trap, so we don’t have to stomach any more of his carping.
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This year, it’s especially difficult to pick favourites, as the standard is uniformly high. Simon Burke, in a series of non-intrusive sponsorship announcements, gives pretty good gambling advice, as a virtual Tom Waterhouse. But for sheer front, it’s hard to top an introspective duet from whiners and miners Palmer (Biggins) and Rinehart (Forsythe), the Nina and Frederik of our time. With their trademark humility and folksy charm, they regale us with a romantic ballad, revealing their innermost thoughts, shooting straight from the heart and imminent hip replacements. Gina, as generous with her candour as with her children; Clive, ever ingenuous. And we can all benefit from their, er, largesse. In a video sequence, against a background of floating clouds and dynamite, Clive walks into frame; reminiscent, at first, of Hitchcock. He turns to face us, his Pavarotti-like portliness momentarily tricking us into half-expecting a commensurate vocal performance. But then, out blurts the broad, coarse conviction we’ve come to know, if not exactly love. “Fate has kissed us bigtime; handed us a goldmine.” Well, some of us, Clive. Well, you, Gina, Twiggy and a handful of others.
Now that Julia’s off the radar, the Toreador’s might well have been her Swansong. Pity, jet as Chopper reckoned Eric Bana did a better version of him than he, Bishop does Gillard better the former PM. Bishop’s Julia will, I’m sure, be sorely missed, even if the real Julia will fade into oblivion, notwithstanding Sydney Opera House appearances and a much anticipated tell-all. And the faux Julia can really sing up a storm, too.
Speaking of any rort in a storm, Scott Morrison (Biggins) was busy commanding the high seas in his misguided way (he seems to lack a moral compass), but the tables were turned when his ship struck trouble and had to call on the goodwill of asylum seekers for rescue. Piratic justice.
Arguably the crowning glory is The Wizard of Oz vignette, with Bishop as Dorothy (Biggins would’ve been just wrong), struggling return to the Labor heartland. On her journey, she meets Bob Carr, The Scarecrow (Forsythe), who moves like a menacing Thunderbird or zombie; Burke, as Beazley, The Cowardly Lion in search of a ticker; and Biggins who almost out-Keaters Keating.
Other precious moments are Burke’s channelling of Misterabbit: he has every mannerism down to a fine, rib-tickling art. The Katter in The Hat is back, thanks to Forsythe’s talent for wheezy, spontaneous laughter. If you want to really put your finger on the national pulse, you can keep your copies of Hansard for the dunny. Look no further than the ubiquitous annual roundup that is the iconic Wharf Revue. If only we had people this clever running the country.
The details: Whoops! played the Glen Street Theatre on October 2-9. It opens at Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf 1 on October 23 — tickets on the company website.