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Canberra Today 3°/8° | Saturday, April 13, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Wharfies eager to open a ‘Can of Worms’

Wharf Revue crew… from left, Phil Scott, Drew Forsythe, Jonathan Biggins and Amanda Bishop. Photo Brett Boardman

THE photo says it loud and clear – the “Wharfies” are back in business and on their own terms, as the latest Wharf Revue is steering a clear course towards the Canberra Theatre. 

There, actor-writer Drew Forsythe tells me by phone from rehearsal in Sydney, the maritime imagery ends, for apart from the title, which they inherited from their long association with the Sydney Theatre Company, there is nothing in it to do with the sea and, by the way, that photo by Brett Boardman was taken on “any old wharf”, not necessarily one near the STC’s wharfside headquarters.

Nonetheless, you have to admire the copywriting skills of Forsythe and his partners in crime, Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and their “figurehead, Amanda Bishop” as they “bravely voyage to the bottom of the barrel”.

Enough. The show is actually called “The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms”, a fitting description of the past year in Australian politics, Forsythe says and it’s playing from November 8 in the Canberra Theatre, a move up in capacity from The Playhouse and one way of contending with possible covid-related restrictions on numbers.

Best of all for Canberra, which has long been the spiritual home of the satirical revue, it’s the first airing for their independent company, set up in association with Jo Dyer, of Soft Tread Enterprises.

“It’s all going smoothly,” Forsythe says cautiously.

“But it’ll be put to the test when we arrive in Canberra, see the set for the first time and do the preview – it’s all been a bit of a rush because of the pandemic.”

They’re not afraid of the big theatre, they’ve seen plenty of them, notably the huge Civic Theatre in Newcastle, where it seemed to go down well.

It’s been a big year for satirists, he thinks and the National Party is well ahead of the pack in providing satirical fodder, but there’s a mixed batch of politicians and the people they normally touch upon, with an occasional look into the past  – John Howard gets to open up the Howard Springs Motel in the NT, for instance.

Forsythe gets some plum parts, especially his favourite, Rupert Murdoch, whom he once depicted as King Lear. This time he’s relaxing at home in London when Mephistopheles turns up for a chat. He supposes this might be what you would call the “serious” part of the revue, but he also gets to play Joe Biden, Pauline Hanson and the Queen.

“With her platinum jubilee coming up, she makes a speech about how the last couple of years have been a little bit up-and-down,” he says, “She’s been in hospital but she bounced out and she’s going to Glasgow… I hope she lasts the distance.”

On a different tack is his parody “Kubla Khan” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, performed by Forsythe as Bob Carr who uses it to give us an insight into the power of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who “A mighty dynasty decreed,” as the new version goes.

Of course, he isn’t alone in having wonderful parts.

Bishop can’t play Pauline Hanson because Forsythe is playing her, so she plays James Ashby, as well as in a scene where Pauline, Mark Latham and Ashby are in a meeting putting up all the things they’re against.

Her big number is a mournful piece sung by Gladys and her Armenian band but she also gets to play Jacinda Ardern, Michaelia Cash and Jacqui Lambie, back from an anger management course after an issue in the Qantas Lounge but “f…ing dealing with it well.”

And what about that person in America? 

“No, he’s not going away,” Forsythe notes, reminding me that Donald Trump has been rallying in Iowa and if he doesn’t stand in 24 it’ll be either Donald Jr or Ivanka. That’s Biggins’ prize part, of course.

Musical maestro Phillip Scott is having a lot of fun with Scomo songs, Harry Belafonte style and, as his favourite character, Kevin Rudd, who has come out of hiding with a message about the Murdoch Royal Commission. 

Uncannily, just before we speak, Forsythe has received a message from the real Rudd on the very same subject.

They’ll do a piece about refugees, their version of a song from the Canadian musical soon coming to the Canberra Theatre, “Come From Away,” but in their case titled “Go Far Away”.

In the grand finale, Biggins plays “Grand Designs” presenter Kevin McCloud covering the housing crisis through the metaphor of “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy is leaving Dubbo (or wherever they are playing – Queanbeyan, perhaps) for the Emerald City to try and buy a home. She gives up.

“The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms”, Canberra Theatre, November 8-20,⁠ Book at 6275 2700.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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