Wednesday, September 14, 2016



Devised and performed by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Philip Scott with Katrina Retallick. Sydney Theatre Company. The Playhouse  Canberra Theatre Centre. September 13 – 24 2016.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Drew Forsythe. Phillip Scott and Katrina Retallick
in The Wharf Revue - Back to Bite You.
Photo by Brett Boardman

Fifteen years on and the Wharf Revue team is kicking proverbial political butt harder and better than ever.  Satire slicker than sleight of quip. Able to cut down to size with a single verbal swipe.  Bawdy, brazen and brilliantly funny,The Wharf revue revelling in its ridicule takes Canberra by storm, and audiences only too familiar with the political shenanigans on the hill, lap up the lampoonery with squeals of delight as the political peregrinations of the past year are paraded with blistering affrontery.
Katrina Retallick and Phillip Scott
in The Wharf Revue - Back To Bite You
Photo by Brett Boardman
Well-honed, astute and deliciously irreverent, creators Drew Forsythe, the arch impersonator, Phillip Scott , the maestro of keyboard and lyrics and Jonathan Biggins, straight man extraordinaire with a penchant for  cheek  are joined this year by phenomenal, gutsy satirical siren of song, Katrina Retallick, who opens the show to let us all know with a stirring rendition of Cole Porter’s hit showtune that Anything Goes.  With apologies to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the first segment is set in Ancient Rome of 2016, an amphitheatre of conspiracy, intrigue, conniving and manoeuvring, just the normal runabout of political life. Video and sound designer David Bergman,  sets the scene with back projections while the cast in togas romp and sally forth. Biggins cuts a fine figure as Coreus Bernardus,   Scott is the spitting image of Pompus Brandeus, while Forsythe sweeps about as Fixer Cristos Pynus.  (These are phonetical versions of what I heard, but they give an idea of our pollies’ transformation to Roman senators) A highlight of the segment is Scott’s gladiator Hinchicus, intent on slaying the unjust. This and Scott’s plebiscite Gand S patter on piano are pure revue.
Phillip Scott and Jonathan Biggins in Ancient Rome 2016
Photo by Brett Boardman

During its non-stop ninety minutes of hilarity in which the follies and vices of our politicians are held up to ridicule, the scene shifts from Rome to our Parliament, peopled by the likes of Julie Bishop, Bob Katter, Arthur Sinodinos, Nick Xenophon, Richard Di Natale and many more. Dutton the Devious does not escape the barbed lashing of the team and poor, embittered  Kevin Andrews, like his Abbott compatriot, Eric Abetz, is barbecued on the pit of satire.
Scott once again takes delight in fitting his lyrics to popular tunes from musicals. Retallick makes the most of Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl as a feisty, forceful Hillary Clinton. Biggins as Higgins channels Rex Harrison with his rendition of Why Can’t The English Learn To Speak as he attempts to train Bill Shorten (Forsythe) to speak.
Jonathan Biggins. Katrina Retallick. Phillip Scott and
Drew Forsythe in Ancient Rome 2016. Photo by
Brett Boardman

It was inevitable that the team would not be able to resist lampooning Trump. Biggins again triumphs in his impersonation of the flamboyant GOP with foot in the mouth disease. Every politically incorrect utterance; every racist remark; every blinding flash of foolishness is compacted into Biggins’ speech. I am puzzled that such a focus on Trump should occupy a large part of the final minutes of the show, and that the finale of this snappy revue should be on the American situation. Is it a mark of the lost opportunity to bring Australian politics to a damning finale? Is the material so lacklustre that there wasn’t that special moment? There are some magic moments such as Biggins’ Fan Dance, the confrontation between Pauline Hanson (Forsythe), Jacqui Lambie (Retallick) and Brandis (Scott) and video references to Bob Hawke (Forsythe), Ben Chifley (Forsythe again) and Julia Gillard ( a guest return by Amanda Bishop and her mysoginy speech) And yet, we are left with another swipe at  Trump Tower politics.
Phillip Scott and Katrina Retallick
as Hillary Clinton. Photo by
Brett Boardman
Similarly, I couldn’t find the need for Carry On Up The Exit with Sid James (Forsythe), Barbara Windsor (Retallick), a voluminous Hattie Jaques (Scott) and a somewhat less than convincing Kenneth Williams (Biggins). Even those familiar with the madcap characters of the Carry On series might find it difficult to see the point of this typical university revue script.
Not so the beautiful, sensitive and intensely moving tribute to Bob Ellis, recently arrived in Heaven and pondering upon his fate and his loss. It is a beautifully expressed tribute to this curmudgeonly commentator on society and the nation’s matters. A brief reference to Richard Neville and we are reminded of the loss of those who made a difference and have passed on. It is time to pause and take a pensive break from the hilarity of ridicule and the lampoonery of the vices and follies of those who determine the state of the nation.
Katrina Retallick. Jonathan Biggins. Phillip Scott and
Drew Forsythe in The Wharf Revue - Back To Bite You
Photo by Brett Boardman
 The Wharf Revue – Back With a Bite probably has more sting than bite, although audiences may take it as they might. Revue is after all a moving feast and Canberra is the perfect place to try out before taking it home to Sydney. What is guaranteed is a night of sheer entertainment and the chance to laugh at folly, marvel at the wit and wisdom of four performers who have honed their skills to create satire that is cleverly crafted, brilliantly performed and an hilarious glimpse of the absurdity of democracy’s inconsistencies.







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