Friday 10 November 2023
Reviewed by Paul Neeson (Arts Wednesday)
The Wharf Revue has been running for 23 years and I can’t believe that I’ve never been before tonight. What have I been missing out on? A jolly good night of belly laughs and clever wit is what.
The show opened to a classic Edwardian drawing room of bigotry and prejudice performed by a convincing cross-dressing cast, setting the scene for 90 minutes of a take-no-prisoners, sacred cow bloodbath. Nothing was off limits to this talented crew of satirists, dancers, singers and impersonators – from identity politics, the ABC, and of course our political masters across the globe. To be fair, the criticism was balanced (mostly) with both sides of the Australian political fence coming in for a clobbering.
There were some stand out moments in the non-stop barrage of sketch comedy. One example – David Marr interrogating Robodebt. Jonathan Biggins as David Marr was a no brainer (they could even share the same mother) but the vocal virtuosity of Mandy Bishop as Robodebt was a highlight of the show.
Donald Trump serenading Rudy Guliani on the ukulele while they were on the run in a Louisiana swamp was a moment of inspired brilliance. As was a typically belligerent Jacki Lambie (with trademark colourful language and that Lambiesque Tassie drawl) alongside her Play School co-host, an earnest but bemused David Pocock.
The musical direction of Andrew Warboys was at the heart of the show’s success. This is a tried and tested formula of setting the satire to the well loved music of Stephen Sondheim, but in the hands of this team it sounded as fresh as the latest Taylor Swift release. The lyrical clarity, rhyme and wit was priceless and the delivery flawless with perfect comedic timing.
Impersonating a character is more than just a costume and wig (both were well crafted) it is the facial tics, the vocal cadences and the physicality of the posture and movement that require much observation, study and practice. We felt we really were in the presence of Queen Elizabeth (I and II), Vladimir Putin, Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton to name just a few.
Some other stand out characters for me were King Charles being confronted by the ghost of Diana, Peter Dutton as the man who could only say no and Joe Biden doing his little trip step around the stage.
The absence of one of the stalwarts of the team, Phill Scott, was noted until he appeared in a video cameo as Kevin Rudd. The video inserts, an essential part of the show, not only facilitated scene and costume changes, but propelled the narrative and energy relentlessly forward. The animation was worthy of the great Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame.
And the show closed with a poignant four part harmony of an Ode to The Voice. A moving and reflective moment after so much laughter. Balance in everything.
They have just come from a season in Canberra and run at the Seymour Centre until the end of the year. After the extensive national tour next year I will be keeping an eye out for the next iteration of the Wharf Revue as it needs to be in my life as an annual event.