THE WHARF REVUE - DEJA REVUE
THE WHARF REVUE: DEJA REVUE, Sydney Theatre Company at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, 13 November-15 December 2018. Photography by Brett Boardman: above - Rachael Beck and Jonathan Biggins; below - Drew Forsythe; below again - Biggins, Forsythe, Beck
The Sydney Theatre Company’s annual fun fixture has finally made it to Hickson Road after the show’s most extensive regional tour yet, including to Nunawading – which sounds like a Wharf Revue punch line in itself. In its eighteenth year (!!) and with a (relatively) new line-up, this year’s Deja Revue is as fascinating as ever.
Fascinating because although each year’s show is the same – political satire, knobbly-knee skits, musical parodies, razor-sharp observation and excruciating kid jokes – it’s never predictable and the always eager audience has no idea what’s coming. This year begins with a stage framed in a traditional Age of Enlightenment painted proscenium arch (set design: Charles Davis); and off we go into panto land.
In this instance, the classic pantomime of Cinderella is made over with Rachael Beck as Principal Boy, Little Malcolm of Point Piper, being cruelly done over by Jonathan Biggins’ Ugly Stepmother Abbott (in frilly mob cap/red’n’yellow lifesaver’s titfer) and Doug Hansell as Wicked Prince Dutton. The crinolines are magnificent, the jokes groan-worthy and the message is clear: give up now and settle in for an hour and 40 minutes of Entertainment.
It’s not all fluff and nonsense, however, as written by Biggins and Drew Forsythe, Deja Revue fairly bristles with the excoriating wit and lampoons we’ve come to expect: Pauline Hanson on a book promotion (Forsythe) is wickedly funny although, to be fair, skewering the Ipswitch is like shooting at a dead nanny goat with a blunderbuss – you can’t miss...
“The Plastic Wrap”, on the other hand, is an ambitious ensemble rap song into the malignant world of extruded petro-chemical byproducts. Using garbage bins and various plastic items, the quintet (including new musical director Andrew Worboys) gives Taikoz a run for its money in the percussion stakes.
As well as Hanson, there are other juicy parliamentary targets: as Barnaby Joyce, specially-returned-from-the-UK Hansell somehow manages to transform his handsome face into an approximation of a beet-red football while singing a good ol’ Country song. The four blokes don neat grey trousers, white shirts and pious demeanours for “The Book of Cormann”; and Biggins and Beck do Bob Brown and Sarah Hanson-Young for a timely “Green Ban”-rap reprise.
Following the retirement from the Revue of original musical maestro and wicked lyricist Phil Scott, the writing credits are now Biggins and Forsythe. Worboys takes over on-stage keyboard duties while STC appears to have invested more than ever in the enterprise with pre-recorded orchestrations and sophisticated video footage (by David Bergman). It pays off for the Company’s reliable cash cow.
Speaking of cash cows, one of the night’s highlights is Rachael Beck’s uncanny turn as Michaelia Cash. Complete with whiteboard and Teflon hair, the impersonation and song are alternately harrowing and hilarious. Her Berejiklian isn’t quite on target but then neither is Gladys: she’s kinda not there despite evidence to the contrary.
The mood and direction of the show change dramatically when Paul Keating appears. It would seem there were few members of the LNP in the opening night audience at the Ros as the spontaneous applause suggested the man himself had just strolled on stage. As the former PM, Jonathan Biggins is more PJK than PJK these days and the monologue is both funny and, as it went on, more and more touching; reminiscent of the Revue team’s tenderly melancholic tribute to Bob Ellis of a few years ago.
Such a gear shift is a risky move to make in a boisterous sketch show, but it pays off. The yearning in the auditorium for an intelligent, charismatic, caustic, visionary leader was palpable. This year it also set the scene for the switch to the gruesome vaudeville of Donald Trump and his cronies Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi. (Biggins, Forsythe and Hansell.)
While still mostly funny, the second half is measurably darker until, in a similarly unlikely and heartfelt intervention as the appearance of Keating, a warrior of yesteryear arrives to save the day. In this instance it’s a sturdily marching HM the Queen with large blue hat, matching coat and a handbag over her arm (Forsythe). With a kowtowing Theresa May tottering nearby (Beck) the 92-year-old monarch delivers the greatest dressing down to Trump one is ever likely to witness; the audience reaction hit the rafters. It could almost turn one off republicanism...almost.
Given that the Revue began its run in early September it’s remarkably topical yet there is a notable absence of Labor in the line-up (no, PJK doesn't count – he's a hero). Checking notices from previous venues it seems a major ALP sketch bit the dust somewhere along the way and that’s a pity. Also noted from other locations is the occasional imbalance in sound between the voices and music track. That’s also a pity as the lyrics are frequently brilliant and always need to be heard clearly – surely, easily fixed.
Quibbles aside, if you’ve been hanging out for the Wharf Revue since the last one, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re new to it, it’s likely you’ll be blown away. There is nothing else like it and nothing on the horizon to replace it. A national treasure and totally recommended.