THEATRE BY FRANK McKONE
Pennies from Kevin – The Wharf Revue by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, with Virginia Gay. Sydney Theatre Company at The Playhouse, Canberra, February 9-13 and March 11-13, 2010
What diversity of talent these four thrust before us. They sing, play and dance in every popular style since the 1930s, but the most surprising and fascinatingly funny is to watch the Colliery Brass Band perform the opening bars of 2001: A Space Odyssey with trumpets, trombone, euphonium and drum. They are the only four left in the band, of course, now that the rest are unemployed or working in “renewables”.
It’s amazing how there can seem to be some kind of logic in a story beginning in the Lower Chamber, Hogwart House, Kirribilli, rollicking through amongst other wonders the Independents of the Upper Chamber, the Democrats in Heaven, Michelle in the White House, Bob Ellis at 3am, up against the Wall in Palestine, and La dolce vita with Amanda V.
Berlusconi, Ratzinger and Vanstone is a combination of horror and laughter not to be missed.
It seems weird to write a serious review of such a riot of a revue, but I think it should be done. The question is raised in my mind, is it a farcical parody or worthwhile satire? To use the kind of wordsmithery Bob Ellis might employ, is it nobler in the mind to let fly the outrageous slings and arrows of political criticism, or to take arms against the oppressor’s wrongs, the proud man’s contumely?
The high point of satire in the show, I think, is the scene entitled “Master Robert Ellis” (so like the real thing in some hidden Hogwart chamber in nightgown and candle that I found it hard to recognise which actor played the role). Every nuance of Ellis’ shuffle, moody hesitation and originality of language is recreated, but this would still be only parody (and therefore insulting) if it were not for the wit in what he says. We laugh not only because he sounds like Bob Ellis speaking, but because what he says is as politically pin-pricking as the real Bob is. And it is not insulting to feel a certain sadness in the character who still wants to pretend he had an affair with Jackie Weaver, because there is a depth of feeling in the real Bob Ellis, a sadness in his integrity as he pinpoints our failings. He reminds me, as his character in Pennies from Kevin does, of Pooh’s friend Eeyore.
To write and perform at this level, interpolated with pure slapstick for light relief, is to make a show which is far better than parody, and therefore worthwhile. To come away laughing is one thing, but to see what is worth laughing at makes this show more than pennies, from Heaven or Kevin.