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theatre review : the wharf revue, canberra theatre


For those out of the loop on what constitutes a revue, The Wharf Revue is a good place to start.  Our politics, current affairs and culture are annually hung out to dry in a series of burning satirical skits and hilarious musical renditions.  Add to this a talented acting troupe and the knockout production values of the Sydney Theatre Company and you’ve got the starters for a good night.

But with any repeat production of this nature, year-to-year it’s proven to be hard for The Wharf Revue to sustain its high comedic standards. When I last attended in 2011 I was notably underwhelmed, and entered the show this year with reasonable apprehension.

An election year, however, is evidently good for a satire writer’s soul because Whoops! The Wharf Revue 2013 blew me out of the water.  Writer Phillip Scott and musical director and accompanist – with a cameo as the Dalai Lama – Andrew Warboys are supported by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe, Amanda Bishop and Simon Burke who play a whole host of characters with complete dedication.

Yes, you read that right. Simon Burke, beloved Playschool host of 25 years delivers a swift kick to our childhood, joining the revue for the first time in Whoops!.  A real asset to the cast, he’s an unsurpassable Bill Shorten singing a poignant rendition of ‘Empty Chairs and Empty Tables’ from Les Mis in an ode to his Labor brothers lost in the election. Yet, his immediate transformation to a remarkable take on Alan Jones and then into a Tony Abbott so alarmingly real I had to do a double take gave Bill and run for his money.

Amanda Bishop, the only woman in the cast and crew, was my favourite of the night.  She adds another reason the political outcomes of this year are a real pity, as when she dons that wig, Bishop seems born to play Julia Gillard, delivering a scathing message to her former colleagues that I’m sure the subject herself would approve of, all to a tune from Carmen.  Bishop shines equally as Judy-Garland-plays-Dorothy, collecting Labor dignitaries on her way to see the Wizard (Rudd) in Canberra than as a perpetually peppy Annabel Crabbe.

The other cast members don’t disappoint.  Jonathan Biggins displays the most flexibility; presenting the most convincing impersonation of Paul Keating I’ve ever witnessed that had me in stitches from the moment he opened his mouth, matched only by his rendition of a mincing Sir Petulant Pyne resplendent in period dress.  Drew Forsythe is most memorable as Gina Rinehart, the audience pleaser of the night, but I enjoyed him most as a pious Eric Abetz, overplayed to perfection.

The production isn’t without its shortcomings. It’s slow to start and those of us in our twenties are not their target audience.  I felt the woosh as a few jokes sailed straight over my head, and more had to be explained in hushed tones to my seat mate.  If you’re used to revues of the university variety, you will find this comedy of a less laugh-per-minute variety; but it makes up for it, once it hit its stride, with the delivery of high brow satire in its best form.

Whoops! The Wharf Revue 2013 has a limited run until the 19th of October at the Canberra Theatre’s Playhouse.  Tickets come as cheap as $35 for under 27s, up to $63 for adults in the best seats.

It opens for its extended season at the Wharf I Theatre, Sydney on 23 Oct – 21 December with tickets for early and weekend shows already on their way to selling out.

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