Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire

Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire  The Wharf Revue written by Drew Forsythe, Phillip Scott and Jonathan Biggins.  Sydney Theatre Company at The Playhouse, Canberra, October 23-27, 2012.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 23

It took me a little while to work out why this year’s Wharf Revue is so good.  It’s the satire, stupid.

There’s a new maturity in the writing and the performances this year.  The best comparison I can make is to say that scenes like Julia Poppins (Amanda Bishop),  Alan “James” Joyce (Josh Quong Tart), the world tour of Foreign Minister Bob Carr (Drew Forsythe), the Fall of the Garden of Earthly Delights (Phillip Scott and audiovisual creator David Bergman), and the Call of the Peter Slipper Handicap are as clever as good David Pope cartoons.

Rather than the show ‘lampooning’ politicians, as they have done in the past, this year characters have depth.  When Julia Poppins’ parrot-headed umbrella plays back Alan Jones’ recorded chaff-bag speech, and she says “Come on, Alan, can’t you do better than that?”, there is a sympathy with Julia in our knowledge of what Alan Jones did do “better than that”, without the need to make any direct reference to his died-of-shame speech.

Connecting Alan Joyce’s Irish accent and history to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is a brilliant play on the struggles of the Qantas CEO to keep in control of life and delay his constantly impending demise.  He must just keep talking, however absurd – and very funny – it sounds.  Tart moved into James Joyce poetic territory so well that even a literate Canberra audience were at times silenced by the language as if they were hearing the real Finnegan – until the content of the words about Aer Lingus, British Airways or Emirates just broke everyone up.

The imagery, in the manner of a mediaeval tapestry, telling the story from the unspoiled Garden of Eden to the ruination of the earth by rampant humans applying their God-given free will, and sung by Scott, following the scene where "Cardinal Bolt" and "Sister Mirabella" condemn the global-warming scientist Flannery of Padua in line with the treatment of Galileo, is artistically and thematically way beyond lampoon.  This is Swiftian satire, wonderfully illustrated.

And then there is Bob Carr, imagining himself as a kind of Gulliver but discovering that he is rather Lilliputian in comparison to the condescending, but terribly polite power of Hillary Clinton.  Forsythe captures all of Carr’s little mannerisms of head, shoulder and facial movement to reveal the character’s inner fears; while Bishop has all the voice and confidence of the most significant woman in the world.

And lastly, but not leastly, among the many other effective scenes, I must make special mention of The Same Sex Marriage of Figaro, where the rearrangement of Mozart is brilliantly done, with singing up to operatic standard – a real measure of the theatrical skills of this company.

The whole show is unified by the story of the launch from Woomera of the ark of humanity – the last survivors taking the story of Earth out to the universe.  This takes the drama above and beyond the petty politics of the day – indeed, Beyond the Rings of Satire.  A great show, not to be missed.


At perhaps Sydney Theatre Company could record Red Wharf: Beyond the Rings of Satire for posterity.

Red Wharf Bay is in Wales, not too far from Dylan Thomas’s “Llareggub” (just a little more literary allusion which might suggest next election year’s show about milking the global village electorate, or trolls under the wharf, or something ....)

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