Wharf Revue takes risks with ‘unredacted’ material

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Simon Burke as Scott Morrison and Drew Forsythe as Clive Palmer. Photo: Brett Boardman

Theatre / “The Wharf Revue 2019: Unr-dact-d”, by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, Sydney Theatre Company, at Canberra Theatre Centre, November 13–23. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD. 

IT’S a funny time again in Canberra! The iconic Wharf Revue is back for its 2019 season. In it, there’s Drew Forsythe’s remarkable characterisations of political figures including Clive Palmer and Bob Hawke and an archetypal old man. Simon Burke adds gusto to Alan Jones and other luminaries. Helen Dallimore is a very comic Trump and Jacqui Lambie, and Lena Cruz is Penny Wong and Kim Jong Un.

The show is still a lot of fun but this time it’s noticeably different from any previous production.

For those who know the company, there is still the biting satire and comic parodying of political and social trends, but this year there’s extra risk-taking in the material. 

The opening monologue from Drew Forsythe touches the raw nerve of an elderly Australia clinging to the known world, who is unable to understand or accept the growing awareness of its limitations. He presents the character with nuanced mannerisms that very few actors could achieve. There is a surprising lack of mocking or condemnation while allowing the words and reactions to possess their own confronting meaning.

Similarly his tribute to Bob Hawke had a detailed portrayal that never tried to over-play significance. His interplay with pianist Andrew Worboys achieved a poignancy that was neither sentimental nor heroic. 

Some of the other portrayals had no such reserve. When Forsythe goes for the jugular he really applies the comic blowtorch on his subjects. With biting dialogue and colourful costuming, his comic ability held nothing back, producing some very memorable hilarity at the expense of high flying political figures. 

In a very post-modern absurdist scene about Kim Jong Un, the very nature of racial appropriation and profiling was explored in a humorous way that shifted the focus from world political attention on to the very nature of satire and comedy when presented today. It was almost disturbing while not becoming ham-fisted. I doubt I have seen this issue tackled in a more in-depth way while still holding its comic force. 

This was one of the scenes that separated this Wharf from previous presentations.

Mid the laughter and the embarrassing recognition that the show produced, there were moments of challenging thought processes that went beyond a particular political stance. Contradictions in social and political stances were extracted within superbly written scenes that were enacted with certainty. 

As with Biggins’ Paul Keating production, there were a number of sketch ideas and characterisations that could be expanded into one-act or full length plays. Perhaps this is the future that will evolve from the amazing talent that has produced this annual event. One has the sense that with the show’s final season in 2020, there will be valuable off-spring that will evolve exciting theatre in subsequent years. 

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