Review / ‘The Wharf Revue’ at the Canberra Theatre

Theatre The Wharf Revue written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott The Sydney Theatre Company Canberra Theatre Centre 13 – 24 September

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MANY in the opening night audience were of an age to remember the “Mavis Bramston Show”, the iconic weekly television show of the mid-1960s. Biggins, Forsythe, Scott and Katrina Retallick carry on the tradition of the satirical revue that has a long history in Australia; even if now seen to be isolated and becoming rare. The extraordinary skills needed to link political, social and psychological insights into an entertaining and lampooning live ninety-minute performance are exemplified in “The Wharf Revue”.

Like the radio satire, “How Green Was My Cactus”, the show is current and targets key players in the political scene. Brandis, Abbott, Bishop, Shorten, Turnbull and many of the political elite appear in togas and as characters in a Romanesque intrigue. It is reinforced by large screen graphics and video giving a “Ben-Hur” style backdrop to the early part of the show. The satire provides some very funny moments that break through the veneer of even the most hardened political skeptic. Each actor plays multiple roles with appropriate accents and physical mannerisms that are very accurate.

For performing dexterity there are very few who can match these four performers. Musically, vocally and for comic timing, they are simply the best in their field. Each song is meticulous in its delivery; the characters are well-delineated with comic foibles exaggerated; the visual design of the show is slick and classy.

Perhaps it is the ticket price or perhaps it is the subject matter itself that leaves the production essentially for an older audience. There was hardly anyone under thirty in attendance. Does this suggest the show is basically a dated experience relying on earlier Revue styles that have questionable relevance for younger audiences? Or is it simply a fact that theatre itself is the prerogative of an upper-middle class ageing population? And has this always been so?

“The Wharf Revue” needs to be seen so as to keep the mocking and lampooning of political intrigues alive. Such a function is as old as Ancient Greek comedy and part of our tradition.

With the death last week of Richard Neville, we might be reminded of our social need to contextualise the pettiness of authority of all shades. The show acknowledged his life and contribution as it did that of the late Bob Ellis, another significant iconoclast writer and personality. The challenge for “The Wharf Revue” might well be to bring it to new and younger audiences.

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