Review / Danger eludes the fun Wharf Revue

Comedy / “The Patriotic Rag”, The Wharf Revue. Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott. At The Playhouse until September 23. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

Drew Forsythe and Jonathan Biggins in The Wharf Revue. Photo by David James McCarthy

AS the show began with Phillip Scott’s playing of the piano one could almost hear the strains from so many previous revues going back to “The Mavis Bramston Show” with refrains of songs such as “Togetherness”.

In the mid-’60s, “The Mavis Bramston Show” was one of the most popular shows on television. It was even preached against by priests and other religious people from pulpits because of its dangerous content. Today, The Wharf Revue has achieved iconic status since its inception in 2000 and carries on the tradition of political and social satire. However, its element of danger has long been dissipated.

It was the Romans who virtually invented the genre with their “satura”. It has always been a very powerful tool for social and political criticism while allowing the practitioners to distance themselves from direct attack for trying to overthrow any direct public institution or order. The Wharf Review is mostly highly entertaining while not necessarily engaging with much that might be called criticism. It parodies other parodies of public figures; and it does this very well without challenging ideas or social attitudes.

Blazey Best’s “Jacqui Lambie”, Drew Forsythe’s “Pauline Hanson”, Jonathan Biggins’ “Donald Trump” and Phillip Scott’s “Stephen Bannon” were some of the parodied figures played to perfection. In use of voice, adopting physical characteristics and capturing nuances of personality, it is difficult to fault this highly skilled and innately talented cast. While perhaps it might be argued that the 2017 show is not as focused as some previous versions, even a lesser version is a cut above when it comes to characterisation and performance levels.

Phil Scott in The Wharf Revue. Photo by David James McCarthy

However, in comparing The Wharf Revue to “The Mavis Bramston Show” we can draw out a contrast in purpose while identifying similarities in style and form. Scott’s music is very similar to the accompaniments of the earlier show. The format has similarities with skits and clever dialogue that identifies the foibles and foolishness of key high-profile personalities. The difference is in the content and toying with ideas.

The 1960s show truly connected with dangerous ideas of the time. Content was deemed obscene. There was even a connection between writers of “Oz” magazine and writers of the show. The Wharf Revue is very cleverly able to tread a line of cheap shots without any real risk of drawing fire from anyone. This does make for fun theatre; though seeing the show in 2017, perhaps it needs to find its dangerous challenge to the establishment that supports it. Even a conservative prime minister can take shots at Donald Trump. Yet there is barely a moment in the show that takes these lightweight shots to any level of originality or danger.

The Wharf Revue is still a valuable and fun night of theatre. But considering the aging audience sector it plays to, one wonders if it needs some invigorating challenge to take it into new territory. Perhaps it needs to return to a greater degree of currency in the lampooning of weekly events; much as “How Green Was My Cactus”, the long-running radio satirical show, has done since 1986.

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