THE WHARF REVUE: PRIDE IN PREJUDICE
PRIDE IN PREJUDICE: THE WHARF REVUE, Seymour Centre 8 November-10 December 2023, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre Wollongong, 30 January-3 February, and Riverside Parramatta 29 February-2 March 2024. Photography by Vishal Pandey
The Wharf Revue is a unique entertainment tradition. Another tradition that attaches to the annual show is to shuffle out of the auditorium and sagely say to one’s companion, “That was the best ever.” Companion nods agreement and so begins the dissection of favourite lines, moments, songs, victims and punch lines.
Other people have midnight mass, the pokies, or cricket, but for many thousands, the Revue ritual is much laughter, a few tears, some gasps, and a lot of thought-provoking cleverness in 90 non-stop minutes. It’s extraordinary value for money in these inflationary times and with savage wars playing out nightly on TV, it’s also an escape into another and welcome reality.
Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and (in absentia this year) Phil Scott have for decades been an unmatched team of performers and creators. Their mix of wit, wickedness, comedy, music, and pop and high culture has been plundered and refashioned year in, year out to skewer the puffed up, the prurient and the simply putrid (Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart among the latter, and deservedly so). Then there are the semi-affectionate tugs on the tails of sacred cows such as the Windsors. In episode 600 and something of The Crown we’re treated to a frightful dream in which King Charles (Biggins) is visited by his late mummy (Forsythe), late pater (David Whitney) and late first wife (Mandy Bishop).
Before that, however, given the show’s title, it gets off to a chortle-worthy start in an extended opening scene where Mrs Bennet (Biggins), with her far too intelligent daughter Elizabeth, and the more simpery ones (Forsythe and Whitney) await the arrival of dashing Mr Darcy (Bishop). It’s a delight of sent-up Austen-lingo and Georgian social mores.
The writers’ remarkable ears for language and their targets are made even more delicious by their obvious joy in subverting every element. King Charles’ hoarsely plummy tones - trizers/trousers, hice/house, dine/down, tine/town – are a gift to an actor such as Biggins, yet Mandy Bishop’s Jacqui Lambie (as a Playschool host with David Pocock/Whitney) is similarly on target and brilliant.
There seems to be a perceptible rise in acidity. For instance, Rinehart and Palmer are seen on the bow of a rapidly sinking Titanic. While, in an animation segment, the fate of other odious types is predicted as a midget submarine plummets to doom while seeking the sunken liner; and Elon Musk’s ambitions in space are given similar hilariously macabre treatment (video design Todd Decker). Also, the tit-upping trot of Forsythe’s President Biden (visiting Bishop’s Boston-nasal Ambassador Caroline Kenndy) is a work of comic genius. It had the Seymour Centre’s opening night audience collectively wetting itself, even knowing it’s downright mean!
Music has always played a large part in the Revues, largely through Phil Scott’s piano – now taken over by the anchoring presence of musical director Andrew Warboys. And through clever spoofs of musical theatre and opera that allow Mandy Bishop to make best use of her voice and exquisitely mangled and re-lifed lyrics.
This year, the cult subtlety of Stephen Sondheim and Company is foregrounded through Bishop’s bitter-sweet Ladies Who Lunch – a sharp contrast to her whizzing turn as a self-propelled bot (costume designers Hazel and Scott Fisher). Much later, turning Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific into a small masterpiece culminating in Peter Dutton (Whitney) glooming that “He’s just a guy who must say no” has to be heard and seen to be fully appreciated. Darker moments punctuate the brightness and are to be savoured. Phil Scott appears all too briefly on screen as Kevin Rudd. (The rule of three says there should have been that many lectures on Chinese history from the prince of prolixity.)
Everyone will have their favourite character or sketch. Some – like the woman in front of me – will sit stone-faced throughout then tell her pal how much she enjoyed it. Recommended without reservation.