Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue

The Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue.  Sydney Theatre Company at Canberra Theatre Centre Playhouse, October 23 – November 3, 2018.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 23

Written and Created by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe
Designer – Charles Davis; Musical Director – Andrew Worboys; Lighting Designer – Matt Cox; Sound and Video Designer – David Bergman

Rachael Beck; Jonathan Biggins; Simon Burke (for Drew Forsythe); Douglas Hansell; Andrew Worboys.

Brilliantly executed, while the Australian Government self-destructs in real life, this year’s Wharf Revue gets it all together on the satirical stage. 

While Rachael Beck as Stormy Weather (aka Daniels) nearly gets into the all-together, revealing all about a Donald so sadly inadequate and essentially uncomprehending of social or political complexity that he absolutely trumps nobody.  Not only does Stormy run rings around him: Putin and Erdogan (Donald thought Turkey was what he ate at Thanksgiving) make mincemeat of him (and the show was written before the news of the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi).

I can only hope that this year’s subtitle Déjà Revue does not suggest that we’ve seen it all before, and that this could be the end of the show’s decade and a half run.  Maybe the incisive satire may prevent another back-stabbed ex-Prime Minister being performed as the pantomime Principal Boy, beautifully played by Beck, singing “Poor Little Me” as Cinderella is kicked off stage by the Three Ugly Sisters –  Kevin (!!) Andrews, Eric(a) Abetz with Tony (Toni?) Abbott the most ugly Fairy Godmother of them all. Peter (Peta?) Dutton gets his dance with Malcolm later.

Rachael Beck and Douglas Hansell
as Malcolm Turnbull (Principal Boy) and Peter Dutton (Prince Charmless)
Photo: Brett Boardman

Because revues traditionally consist of a series of skits, in 90 minutes there are far too many items for me to review them all.  But the audience members around me said it all: so many times I heard not just uncontainable laughter, but people going silent and saying almost under their breath, “Oh…No!”.  Perhaps the Tamworth Golden Guitar Country Music performance of Barnaby Joyce, including the cooking of his little sausage in the business of his family values, caught our breath most strongly.

But the highlight most memorable for this Canberra, the Federal Capital, audience was surely Biggins’ Paul Keating, the ascerbic previous Prime Minister, the last Labor man before the awful election of Conservative John Howard in 1996.  (I was there in the Tally Room, and I’ll never forget.)  Howard doesn’t appear in Déjà Revue, but we all know how he is still such an influence – especially in last Saturday’s Wentworth by-election to replace Principal Boy, Malcolm Turnbull.

Paul Keating
Photo: Encyclopedia Britannica

 Biggins’ imagined speech that Keating would give – with all the mannerisms, significant pauses and turns of phrase that we know so well – is a devastating review of our current alt-Conservative regime, tearing itself apart.  The parallel in a later scene is where Donald Trump fails to recognise his current security adviser, John Bolton, as he thinks Bolton is each of the many previous advisers he has forgotten he sacked.

“We don’t hate,” says the Wharf Revue's Jonathan Biggins. “I actually pity politicians tremendously.”  [ ]  The strength of this year’s show is that the satire is so effective because we find ourselves pitying while we laugh.  The Keating speech could have been written by Paul Keating himself – a withering indictment of political ineptitude.  Biggins’ performance was cheered and applauded, while appreciated for the comic tradition in his imitation of the real Keating’s character.

Simon Burke was so good that I didn’t miss the always terrific Drew Forsythe.  Forsythe will be back on stage for the Sydney season, but catch the Wharf Revue 2018: Déjà Revue in Canberra if you can.

Jonathan Biggins as President Donald Trump
Photo: Brett Boardman