Review by James Ong
A trusted institution of the Sydney theatre scene, The Wharf Revue is gracing our stages once more with fire in its heart and frivolity up its sleeves. The signature thruple of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott lead us once again into the breach, with returning longtime collaborator Mandy Bishop as their mischievous accomplice. This time romping into the York Theatre of the Seymour Centre instead of the titular Was Bay wharfs, the team has no less delivered their usual round of well-crafted and absolutely absurd satire. An integral aspect of any revue worth its salt is plentiful references to and inspiration from recent social and political events, and here that’s dialled up to 11. Considering the tumultuous and downright traumatic events of the past two years, the writers/performers had more than enough ammo and plenty of fat to chew - in fact the production became somewhat of a time capsule for me. The sheer volume of outrageous real life events that were thrust through our TV screens into our poor, isolated souls was honestly hard to keep track of and I didn’t quite realise how much content fell out of the back of my brain as new outrage was forced in the front. I felt reminiscent during sketches that were based in early 2020, nostalgic even, as we flashed back to the scandals of what feels like yesteryear. The team returned to some tried and true cariacatures from previous seasons, including Biggins’ wildly entertaining Trump and Forsythe’s one-two punch as Queen Elizabeth and a deeply histrionic Pauline Hanson. It’s quite clear why these characters (amongst others) have returned so many times in the two decades this annual sketch spectacular has run. Always reliable music-man Phillip Scott continues to amaze as an all-round talent, equally adept at tickling the ivories as he is in reprising his surprisingly accurate Kevin Rudd impersonation. The particular stand out returnee however came in the form of Bishop’s turn as Gladys Berejiklian, this time recounting her tenure in office through an Armenian style jig. Contorting her face into that of the perpetually anxious, puppydog-eyed former premier, Bishop ridicules Aunty Gladys with balanced criticism and sympathy. Some of these reappearing acts did get a bit long in the tooth however, with what appeared to be a slight reliance on the dependable oldies. The troupe is no stranger to often touchy subject matter, particularly of the racially charged variety, but this season the crew has found the fine line that they may have overlooked in previous years. A willingness to offend can be an admirable and essential trait for the format, but it can be a mark all too often missed. It’s clear the gang now know just right point to push these ethnically specific spoofs (see the aforementioned Armenian ditty) without venturing into outright mockery - an infinitely difficult skill to attain, mastered through years of trial and error. In our second wave of returning to the theatre, audiences have largely been clamouring for escapism from the claustrophobic years that have just past. While plenty of productions have aimed to subtly reference and imply the impact of our time in the great indoors, Wharf Revue 2021: Can of Worms dives headfirst into the chaos and keeps us there for a hilarious and rattling 90 minutes. Our trusted team of goofs has sifted through the mountains of muck to illuminate and lampoon what has genuinely been quite a dark time in our lives, allowing us to once again laugh at what a farce of a world we live in.
Image Credit: Vishal Pandey