For 19 years now, around this time, the Wharf Revue has hit the stage, its satirical skewering of politicians at home and abroad always coming as a welcome relief and a real tonic. Tickets disappear fast, and house full signs are pretty well assured.
This year, while the show has been written by the original team of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, only Forsythe actually appears on stage. He is joined by Simon Burke, Lena Cruz and Helen Dallimore, with Andrew Worboys as Musical Director, who leaves the keyboard now and then to take part in various sketches. (Biggins puts in a brief appearance on screen as God.)
Simon Burke as Scott Morrison and Drew Forsythe as Clive Palmer. Photo © Brett Boardman
Because the Wharf is still closed for renovations, the Revue has moved to the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Presented on a flashier, glossier set than usual, designed by Charles Davis, with a dazzling array of costumes and wigs, and lighting by Matt Cox, the production more than holds its own in the bigger venue.
The vaudeville-inspired staging includes a large screen at the back, which has a Looney Tunes-type image on it while the audience is entering the theatre. During the show, various types of footage is screened (video design by Ben Lightowlers), including a fabulously intimidating Peter Dutton advert.
As usual the Revue – this year called UNR-DACT-D – is for the most part absolutely on point politically, its satire sharp and sure, the lyrics smart and funny, and the musical choices astute and amusing. However, as often tends to happen, not all the sketches fire to the same degree.
Rather than a big opening number, UNR-DACT-D begins in a slightly lower key with Lena Cruz in top hat and tails singing The Diversity Tango (“inclusion causes confusion”), immediately tapping into an Australia that has become more openly racist in recent years.
Helen Dallimore as Donald Trump. Photograph © Brett Boardman
The theme of diversity on stage is later explored in a pithy number in which Cruz plays Kim Jong-un, flanked by two supposedly North Korean generals, portrayed as British RAF officers. These days it’s well and truly accepted that Caucasians shouldn’t be playing North Koreans. But, says Cruz, why the hell is she putting on a broken-English accent? She’s from the Philippines, anyway. (“You think all Asians look the same?”).
Highlights of the show include an encounter between Scott Morrison (Burke) and Clive Palmer (Forsythe) in which Palmer happily throws his weight while explaining how he helped Morrison at the election, while in the next skit, Jacqui Lambie (Dallimore) and Penny Wong (Cruz) meet in a sauna to discuss deals. There’s a clever spin on The Cell Block Tango from the musical Chicago, featuring Forsythe as Cardinal George Pell and Burke as Julian Assange, and a brilliant number performed by all the cast about the rise of Trump (Dallimore) to music from Hamilton.
Dallimore is also very funny in a sketch about the challenges currently faced by the ABC, in which she plays Leigh Sales live on stage as well as Ita Buttrose, Janet Albrechtsen, Bronwyn Bishop and Laura Tingle on screen. There’s a touching scene to the song Thanks For The Memory in which Forsythe plays Bob Hawke sitting quietly at a piano bar in heaven, while the final section to music from Cabaret makes for an inspired conclusion with Forsythe giving a brilliantly observed turn as Pauline Hanson in Sally Bowles mode.
Drew Forsythe as Pauline Hanson. Photograph © Brett Boardman
Forsythe is in fine form throughout. Burke also shows impressive versatility, taking on Boris Johnson, Alan Jones, Mark Latham and Tony Abbott, as well as Pell and Morrison with convincing aplomb.
Some sections fizzle, however, among them a variety-type skit featuring Vladimir Putin (Forsythe) and Xi Jinping (Cruz) that barely raises a laugh, and a meeting between Germaine Greer (Dallimore), Bob Carr (Forsythe) and Tony Abbott (Burke) discussing faith which never really takes off. A number in which Aung San Suu Kyi (Cruz) justifies the persecution of the Rohingya people to the tune of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina from Evita, is clever but feels so darkly serious that it sits rather oddly in this context.
Despite the ups and downs, Wharf Revue fans will find plenty to enjoy and will doubtless come away having been thoroughly entertained.
The Wharf Revue 2019: UND-RACT-D plays at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney until October 26