THE PATRIOTIC RAG - THE WHARF REVUE
THE PATRIOTIC RAG - THE WHARF REVUE, Sydney Theatre Company touring, now in Wharf 1, 24 October-30 December 2017. Photography by Brett Boardman: above - Chancellor Angela Merkel, below - President Donald Trump, below again - Scott, Best and Biggins
Walking out of the theatre on Saturday afternoon, two women among the crowd were in earnest conversation. Said one, “Well, I think it was better than last year.” Her friend chortled, “You said that last year!” And they weren’t the only ones thinking such thoughts: they are expressed every year.
Another way of looking at it is that the Wharf Revue’s creative team of Jonathan Biggins, Phil Scott and Drew Forsythe has maintained an extraordinarily high standard for longer than is either reasonable or credible. In short, they are amazing.
This year the trio is joined by Blazey Best and she is as spectacular as one would expect. She takes on Jacquie Lambie’s nasal drone and lizard grin, Michaelia Cash’s corncrake screech and pugnacious mien and Julie Bishop’s obsessive athleticism with hilarious and deadly accurate results. She simpers and poses like an animated Barbie as daddy’s girl Ivanka Trump. And at the other end of the feminist credibility spectrum, she’s as good as Tracey Ullman as Angela Merkel. And as Pauline Hanson’s sidekick James Ashby she is the perfect sleaze and only made better by being dwarfed by Drew Forsythe as the little redhead from Ipswich.
Aside from razor-sharp mimicry from all four, the jokes, ideas and script are equally deadly and rarely miss the bullseye. Jonathan Biggins embraces his inner idiot with a rewritten version of Michael Jackson’s Bad that becomes the mocking I’m Mad – and a creepy, basilisk-like Tony Abbott in shiny green lizard suit and red budgie smugglers.
Parody is tricky these days, when politics – at home and abroad – tends towards caricature anyway, and it says a lot about the wicked, vivid imaginations in play here that satire follows lampoon follows outright wicked mockery. And they are, as ever, equal opportunity piss-takers: Malcolm Turnbull (Forsythe) in his wretchedly uncool leather jacket is a rockstar as square as a lamington; Derryn Hinch (Scott in excess facial hair) is as blustery as Kim Jong Un (Scott in excess North Korean chic) is beyond belief.
After last year’s heartfelt tribute to Bob Ellis, the spotlight turns in 2017 to John Clarke who, with long-time collaborator Brian Dawe, contributed so mightily to the public’s understanding of Canberra chicanery. The Revue’s writing of this sketch is spookily spot-on it’s both an accolade and testimonial to the brilliance of both teams.
A combination of silliness and malevolence is achieved in the representation of Peter Dutton as a featureless stocking mask (Biggins) whose creepiness is shudder-inducingly accurate. Gerard Henderson and David Marr on the Insiders sofa doesn’t work as well, possibly because the depth of loathing that radiates from the two men in real life is just not the stuff of burlesque.
What is memorable – among the already-mentioned – is Forsythe as the Man of La Mancha, ex-Senator-now-candidate Malcolm Roberts. Or as his boss Pauline Hanson calls him, “Malcolm Robertson”. As he tilts at the great blades on a wind farm there is something both pathetic and frightening about the depth of delusion on display.
The Patriotic Rag of 2017 cannot overlook the global effect of Donald Trump, however, and the Biggins impersonation is uncanny, awful, hilarious and properly mean. As Drumpf and the object of his bromantic desire, Vladimir Putin (Forsythe), get stuck in to Let’s Face the Music and Dance, the tone and tune gradually darken. The world’s worst ever reality show becomes all too real and fills the hearts and minds of a suddenly sobered audience. Beg, borrow or s***l a ticket. Recommended.