‘Wharfians’ master the right amount of comedy in tragedy

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The Wharfies Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott with Mandy Bishop

Theatre / “The Wharf Revue: Good Night and Gook Luck”, Sydney Theatre Company, at Canberra Theatre Centre, December 1-19. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

THE acidic humour in the Wharf’s 2020 revue displays the darkness and the ironic comedy in the year of fires, COVID-19 and a political world in flux seemingly on the brink of an abyss.

No longer is there the quaint nostalgia of a Keating and Hawke rambling on about the state of their gentle absurdities. Instead there are frighteningly funny scenarios of brutal North Korean atrocities, world dictators, American politics and Australian political in-fighting. Each performer, including wharfian, Mandy Bishop, mastered the necessary stretch to get on top of the delicate balance between the comic and the tragic.

Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott, and co-directed by Biggins and Forsythe, there were surprisingly sombre scenes which included satirical language but performed with very focused and serious style. The descriptions of the sirens in the streets of New York provided a very impactful comment on the serious negligence and monstrous behaviour of a Nero fiddling on the golf course while the city streets were all but silent. The revue never lingered too long on jolting presentation, however. We immediately got to see hilarious versions of “Mayor Trump” in a western town as “Sleepy Joe” came to town. 

The singing from the four cast members was outstanding. Not only are they very talented and committed actors and comedians, their musical strength, alone, is worth the ticket price. Scott’s very powerful and comical Elton John take-off in a scene about the development of the murderous North Korean regimes left no one in any doubts about the nature of such a dangerous blight on the world. Forsythe’s Putin and Bishop’s singing of multiple political satirical figures were entertaining and pointed. Biggins even gave Trump a go with the vocal cords. 

It is no doubt that The Wharf Revue fits into the tradition of the Ancient Greek satirist Aristophanes. Revue is less about distraction from society and life; it is about delving more deeply into the real world and the inanities of political and personal social engagements. This year’s revue provided a minimalist set with strong cinematic qualities heightening the focus on very real characters from the world stage of fools. It was less about human foibles and more concerned with deliberate agendas of powerful people striving to keep their power regardless of the repercussions. In this regard, the “2020 Wharf Revue: Good Night and Good Luck” presents an ominous reflection that warns of a very uncertain future.

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