Debt Defying Acts – The Wharf Revue by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, with Amanda Bishop. Sydney Theatre Company at The Playhouse, Canberra, October 18-22, 2011.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
At the urinal, conversation flowed, fulsome and pithy:
“They really are clever.”
“They are! They are!”
Taking the piss out of politicians certainly worked on Canberra’s public servants.
Powers must have been specially delegated from DFAT considering the inordinate responses not only to the present Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd in the guise of the Phantom of the Opera, but also the mysterious appearance in the downstairs disabled toilet of ex-Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who didn’t want to be told anything about anything. The Phantom, of course, was holding his ambition (i.e. the Prime Minister Julia Gillard) incognito, insisting in magnificent song on his undying love for her.
Why is the disabled toilet downstairs where disabled people can’t get to it? – exactly. Just the place for a quiet read (Alexander had come to recover a forgotten tome), or for holding someone incognito, and indeed for a final stab in the back. As Julia made clear, this time she will do it properly, while Kevin slumped across the piano keyboard – I could say, “dead, buried and cremated”.
Which reminds me of the other phantom of this circus: a clown who appeared only briefly at the beginning as a shadow figure with big ears – Tony Abbott, the evil Dr No with his Invisible Mandate. Julia, Queen of the High Wire Balancing Act, was there, though actually riding a nameless (faceless?) pony. Wild Barry O’Farrell (or was it Farry O’Barrel?) got his gun with the help of the religious right. Even the Faded Rose of Yesteryear, Miss Kittie Keneally, had her day. The Tragedy of King Rupert played out to its inevitable conclusion as his favourite seeming daughter Rebekah took nothing, while his Crouching Tiger wife took everything. But no show for Tony Abbott.
Was the problem that there is simply nothing funny to write about an Opposition in a political revue? Or just about this Opposition?
Getting a bit more serious, a good revue should edge towards satire. If it’s edgy enough it should reach some kind of horrible truth. This was achieved in this year’s Wharf Revue in a shadow puppet presentation of the shock-jock horror, Alan Jones and those he has spawned. Using recordings of their broadcasts, including the ring-ins, this segment was parallel to wayang puppetry which might bring down a dictator in another country. If only, in our case.
And getting very serious, this production is magnificent. The action is fast-paced with great timing throughout, in a circus-tent set which incorporates its own lighting, sound and visual media, reminding me of the amazing Famous Spiegeltent. We are used to the annual Wharf Revue, of course, but this year I thought Amanda Bishop’s singing, dancing and athleticism stood out (upside down at the very end), as did Drew Forsythe’s Rupert Murdoch as King Lear. Switching so many roles – and some very complicated costumes – in short order, with each new character instantly recognisable, was a strength in all four performers.
My conclusion is that the Canberra Theatre Centre should have employed this team to launch its 2012 Program (see Love Song blog posted October 6) as well as including The Wharf Revue again next year (as they have).