CANBERRA devotees of the long-running Wharf Revue can breathe a sigh of relief – news of its demise has been greatly exaggerated.
For in spite of the publicity that reads, “One last hurrah” and “one final victory lap”, this won’t be the last of the satirical team which has been laying into Australian politicians for the past two decades.
I catch up with one part of the Wharf triumvirate, Drew Forsythe as he’s recovering from a back injury he says he got “leaning on the piano”.
He’s in week two of rehearsing with fellow Wharfies Jonathan Biggins, Phillip Scott and Amanda Bishop at the Sydney Theatre Company’s Richard Wherrett Studio for the coming show, “The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night and Good Luck”.
“We did the filming yesterday for some of our on-screen appearances,” he says.
“But we are absolutely not winding up… all it means is that we are leaving the STC and going to produce it ourselves.”
Forsythe’s son has been urging them to do it for years, and now John Bell and Hugo Weaving have joined in the chorus to say, “it was time”.
Stage and film producer Jo Dyer of Soft Tread Enterprises will take over the management. She produced Biggins’ touring Keating show, “the Gospel According to Paul” and has worked with the Adelaide Festival Centre.
“We dearly love Canberra,” Forsythe says, and that’s a good thing, because they’re opening here on December 1 with an extended three-week season in The Playhouse and no, it’s not a retrospective show looking back at the past 20 years.
“Jonathan and I have been writing for the last eight months… but with the virus to contend with and our elephant in the room, the Trump campaign, to contend with, the sketches needed to be fluid.”
But that’s grist to the mill to a troupe that in 2015 opened here the night after Malcolm Turnbull took the leadership of the Liberal Party from Tony Abbott, with a quickly revised scenario.
Playing right to the tastes of Canberra audiences, the Wharfies were taking no chances, with a flexible Trump sketch at the end of the show that could be interpreted variously.
Biggins appears as Mayor Trump of Trump City in the Wild West, circa 1865. Melania is the saloon hostess while John Bolton is the narrator. Doc Fauci is called in to deal with a local viral outbreak and Nancy Pelosi is the headmistress. Joe Biden turns up at high noon.
“I think we covered it pretty well,” he says.
“We are really doing the work of satirists; if Trump won, that would demonstrate how hard it is to satirise something so absurd.”
Over the years, Forsythe has developed something of a reputation for writing slightly more sombre sketches, as in the one where Rupert Murdoch appears as King Lear on the heath.
This time round, his self-described “rather dark piece” deals with the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.
“I was watching ‘Four Corners’ and suddenly it came into my mind to do something about people walking through the airport one by one and stopping to the sounds of silence, so ‘Hello New York my old friend, I might not visit you again’…”
On a lighter note, Biggins, Forsythe and Phillip Scott are staging a kind of Eurovision, where three world leaders contest for “The Supreme Voice”.
Biggins as Bolsonaro will perform a bossa nova-style ode to Brazil, Scott will play piano man Elton John to Kim Jong Un’s songs “Rocket Man” and “Crocodile Rock” accompanied by old screen footage of Kim Il-sung on a white horse.
Forsythe plays Putin, known to be a fan of “Mamma Mia”, singing “Leader for Life”.
“If it weren’t so serious it would be funny,” he says.
The Wharf team is not one to disappoint its audiences.
Gladys Berejiklian makes a quick screen appearance, Scott will revive his Kevin Rudd role as he fights the good fight with Murdoch, Forsythe makes a return as Pauline Hanson facing up to the great 5G conspiracy and Bishop appears as Julia Gillard to comment on ALP factions in a Lloyd-Webber send-up, “Memories”.
Alas, exhausted by being Keating for a year or so, Jonathan Biggins will not play the former prime minister this time round but, apart from being Trump throughout, in a sketch set in a quarantine home, he does get to play Basil Fawlty.
“The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night and Good Luck”, the Playhouse, until December 19, bookings at canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.