Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Jonathan Biggins, Katrina Retallik, Phil Scott, Drew Forsythe

Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott
Presented by Sydney Theatre Company
Canberra Theatre Centre 13 – 24th September

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Surprisingly, our Prime Minister doesn’t make an appearance in this newest edition of The Wharf Revue; however he has provided the creators with an all-star cast who more than compensate for his absence. Pauline Hanson, Jacquie Lambie and Derryn Hinch all make appearances, as does his predecessor, Tony Abbott, resplendent in red budgie smugglers, whose extraordinary fan-dance is alone, worth the price of admission.

Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott are an extraordinary team who not only conceive and write all the material, but also perform it. Each is a masterful clown, with particular skills to contribute. Their annual Wharf Revues are eagerly anticipated, particularly by Canberra audiences, for the brilliance with which they skewer the foibles and failings of those elected to govern our country.

Their current revue, “Back To Bite You” is up there with their best. Slick, meticulously staged, and presented on an elegant setting augmented with clever video projections and a constant stream of wickedly appropriate costumes. The show commences in ancient Rome where toga-clad senators, with ridiculously familiar names, scheme and plot. Among the continuous parade of unlikely characters  is  Hinchicus, (Phil Scott clad in gladiator leather, sword and shield as broadcaster, Derryn Hinch) whose interview by a certain well-known, red bandana-wearing columnist, portrayed with delicious accuracy by Jonathan Biggins, provides one of many highlights.
Katrina Retallik as Hilary Clinton - Phil Scott on piano 

New to the team this year, Katrina Retallick, sets the scene as a Roman goddess in a superbly sung introduction. Her considerable acting and music theatre chops as well as her immaculate comic timing prove a considerable asset as, among many stylish turns, she joins Biggins for some Bob Fosse-inspired madness to the tune of The Rhythm of Life, portrays Julia Bishop, Jacqui Lambie, and an especially charged-up Hilary Clinton warning “Don’t Piss on My Campaign” to the tune of Don’t Rain on My Parade.

Drew Forsythe adds memorable characterisations as Pauline Hanson fending off overtures from Phil Scott’s George Brandis, as a compliant Bill Shorten getting a lesson in media skills from Jonathon Biggins’ Professor Higgins, a la “My Fair Lady”, but especially as a funny and poignant Bob Ellis, complete with tiny battered angels wings, celebrity spotting his heroes and mentors in heaven.

Jonathan Biggins,  in top form, delivered  a brilliant pun-packed monologue as American military chief, Dick Tingle, briefing the audience on America’s view of the Middle East. He also demonstrated his considerable mastery of physical comedy in a cavalcade of memorable creations including a fan-dancing Tony Abbott, a Fosse-like escapee from “Sweet Charity”, and a shorts-clad Bob Brown.

Phil Scott and Jonathon Biggins 

Besides slipping behind the keyboard of the Steinway grand to provide brilliant accompaniments, Phil Scott manages to  miraculously  slip in an out of some impressive costumes to portray a buxom Hattie Jacques, an avenging gladiator, a Roman senator, and any number of other miscreants with rib-tickling flair. 

It was interesting to observe that the final section of the show focussing the American political scene, while brilliantly devised, did not get the same response from the audience as what had gone before. Perhaps it was because of a lack of familiarity with the personalities in American politics, or maybe because the pronouncements of the likes of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are just too unsettling. Or perhaps the audience just laughed out.
Whatever the reason, it was proof of how well this brilliant production succeeds in achieving what should be the aim of every satirical review,  to entertain, provoke and unsettle.

                                             Photos by Brett Boardman

This review is also published in Australian Arts Review.