Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Wharf Revue: The Patriotic Rag - Canberra Theatre

Review by John Lombard

The Wharf Revue thrives on political chaos: the rise of Trump depicted as Little Shop of Horrors, or Kevin and Julia in a Phantom of the Opera duet of wooing and backstabbing.

With the world doomed but oddly stable - like a time bomb with the clock jammed one minute from an explosion - the Revue this year feels a little predictable, but is not less funny for that: the tension is there, we just haven't reached the punchline yet.

Some of the beats are expected: there is a farewell for Jon Clarke as he interviews St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, and North Korea's nuclear ambitions get a mordantly funny pop song.  Trump and Turnbull are present, but largely where we left them last year.

Strangely though the hot topic of the moment, the gay marriage plebiscite, rates only a couple of jokes, rather than its own full sketch.  The musical Hamilton has also so far managed to dodge a skewering, although it should be ripe material for the Wharf Revue team.

With no election as fuel, space is given to showcase Phillip Scott's excellent piano work, with the opening "patriotic rag" a homage to the great political patter songs.  When Phillip Scott finishes a song, he likes to tap out a few final notes - a satisfied artist signing his work.

Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe's parodies are as sharp as ever, although some of the characters are starting to age: Biggins' deviant, manic Tony Abbott is still perfect, but Drew Forsythe's Pauline Hanson is less interesting: she may have a new plane, but seems stuck in a holding pattern.

Blazey Best was excellent in all of her parts, especially her Jacqui Lambie - here a wonder woman that hails from a mysterious island isolated from civilisation.  She also gives a genuinely wicked caricature of Hanson adviser James Ashby - the kind of parody close enough to life to really hurt.

One slightly subtle joke featured pre-recorded press conferences of history.  Here Louis XVI took the microphone and began a press conference on the state of Versailles.  The audience started quiet, but slowly took up the joke as more and more people realised each absurd, out-of-touch statement was a remix of a Trump quote.

But the Revue continued a trend of slightly flat, overlong finales with a sequence where Trump hosts his own talk show.  Having Putin as a guest as on the Trump show was a decent idea, but I thought the earlier Guardians of the Galaxy Poll superhero sketch had more impact.

But for having less fresh material the Revue is no less funny - the polish of the show is still extraordinary.  Besides, if world affairs are anything to go by, next year's show should be a killer - that is, if any of us are still alive by then.