Political circus comes to town

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Amanda Bishop, as Julia Gillard, and Phil Scott, as Kevin Rudd... “You do have to get inside them and bring out the warmth, otherwise the humour doesn’t work,” says Bishop. Photo by Silas Brown
SATIRIST in The Wharf Revue, Drew Forsythe, may joke that Canberra is the revue’s spiritual home, “where all our clowns actually originate from”,  but at one level it’s no joke.

For the show’s annual pilgrimage to the heart of the nation has become one of the most keenly-pursued events on the Canberra calendar.

The team of Forsythe, Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and Amanda Bishop will soon be back in town performing “Debt Defying Acts!”, their take on the political and financial crises that beset Australia.

The message is clear when I chat to Bishop and Scott by phone – live politicians are much more entertaining than circus animals. “Our pollies are actors in a travelling show,” Bishop says, as she explains that The Wharf almost likes to find a theatrical vehicle for its political comment.

This is very much a human circus, although there is a wooden horse in the show, make of that what you will. Bishop promises a cast of familiar faces such as Kevin Rudd, Bob Brown, Bob Katter, Sarah Hanson-Young, Julia Gillard, Barry O’Farrell, Fred Nile… the list goes on.

In Canberra and NSW, they’ll be playing sport with Premier Barry O’Farrell’s standoff with the Shooters’ Party, but in Brisbane that mightn’t work, so while up north, they’ll switch their focus to Japanese whalers instead.

So who is her favourite character? “I love all of them – Wendy Deng is fun,” Bishop says, but then again, she gets to play Rebekah Brooks, Kristina Keneally and Julia Gillard – “they’re all so different”.

She agrees with comedian Max Gillies that the best satirical roles (like his Amanda Vanstone) require a touch of love – “you do have to get inside them and bring out the warmth, otherwise the humour doesn’t work.”

Phil Scott is the Mr Music of the show, but also one of the original creators. He doesn’t conceal his relish in playing Kevin Rudd – “I’m glad he’s hung around.”

As usual, Scott gets to perform a solo piece on the piano with some fast-talking patter.

He believes that they’ve hit the right note with the revue.

“I can’t believe it, one and a half hours passed so fast,” an audience member told him recently.

“That’s because we don’t let anything go on for too long,” Scott says.

Believe it or not, there is one sketch that’s not based on Australian politics. “What would the French Revolution have been like if everything was decided by focus groups and polls?” it asks.

And inevitably, Rupert Murdoch appears as King Lear with dementia. “It’s all very Shakespearean,” Scott concludes.

The 2011 Wharf Revue, “Debt Defying Acts!”, The Playhouse, October 18-22. Bookings to 6275 2700 or www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au

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