By Millie Bull
Filing into the Canberra Theatre, The Chaser Quarterly furnished every seat. Headlines proclaimed ‘How It All Falls Apart: Labor’s First 100 Days’ and ‘Australia’s Top 5 Prime Ministers of the Last Three Weeks’. The stage was set for a political debate, with a projector screen suspended between two lecterns. This was The Chaser War on the F*#king Election. As the houselights dimmed, a video began to roll. A journalist on the street asked passers-by to name the current Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, to dismal results. After much dumbfounded silence, it was decided it must be Scott Morris and Bill Killton. As the audience chuckled, many let out a sign of relief, assured that their political indifference was not a personal flaw but a national affliction.
The show began with high energy. Charles Firth (The Chaser) and James Schloeffel (The Shovel) took to the stage, after a detour via the back row to visit the marginal seats. As the first twenty minutes unfolded, it became apparent that jokes were not tailored to political diehards but average left-leaning Aussies. Bar one fleeting reference to ‘space invaders’ for those up-to-date with the news cycle, most jokes only relied on a vague awareness of Auspol, from philandering Barnaby to onion-nibbling Tony (‘Australia’s 30th Best Prime Minister’).
The show was broken into a sequence of rotating skits, in a rather televisual style. Satirical analysis by Firth and Schloeffel was interspersed with skits by Mark Humphries (ABC’s 7.30) and by Victoria Zerbst and Jenna Owen (both of SBS’ The Feed). Laughter reached its crescendo in Firth and Schloeffel’s trusted hands, though Zerbst and Owen also created a few humorous moments. One skit, about the women of the Liberal Party, saw the two running on and off stage sporting different wigs in a bid to conceal the Liberal’s lack of female representatives. The show was most effective when it stuck closest to its television origins. A cleverly contextualised video of Shorten talking about iceberg lettuces was funnier than any fictional parody.
The character assassinations of the major parties were enough to make anyone feel hopeless and think that perhaps the Greens - despite ‘recycling’ their policies - were the only sane vote. Shorten’s lack of charisma was a recurring punchline. Labour’s energy policies were aligned with their leader’s ability to suck energy from any room. One skit suggested Bill ought to campaign under the slogan ‘Vote for Chloe Shorten’s Husband’ as a Powerpoint flickered through photos of his beautiful, smiley wife. Morrison was lampooned as the most ‘fair-dinkum, dinky di, down-to-earth, true blue Aussie block on $400k a year'. A particular unfortunate montage of the PM deep-throating sausage rolls and meat pies commemorated seven months of lacklustre leadership.
The show was not as deliciously offensive as I expected from the creators of a TV show that was almost kicked off the air. Nothing reached the gold standard of The Chaser’s 2007 APEC stunt. (For those who don’t recall, Chas Licciardello breached the APEC security zone, emerging from a car dressed as Osama Bin Laden just metres from the InterContinental, where George W. Bush was staying. Whilst The Chaser faced charges at the time, it's impossible to imagine anything like this even happening today). Yes, certain One Nation senators were likened to Hitler and the KKK, but nobody in the audience appeared to find these comparisons too scandalous, likely because similar ideas have already been expressed in the mainstream press. The cast seemed aware of the dangers of bad taste, with Chris Lilley and his new series Lunatics trounced for its racial insensitivity.
Whilst providing a ceaseless barrage of acerbic one-liners, I missed the fearlessness of previous iterations of The Chaser. Having been denied their usual slot on the ABC this election season (hence the theatre show), their turn away from the deeply political incorrect is understandable. Ultimately, in today’s woke social climate their previous belief in satire at all costs cannot fly.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.