The Wharf Revue 2020: Good Night and Good Luck

By Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott. Sydney Theatre Company. Directed by Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe. Parramatta Riverside Theatres in November 2020, then touring until February 2021.

Reviewed : November 28, 2020

Photo : John P. Harvey

The original Wharf Revue trio, with the talented assistance of Amanda Bishop, is back on tour with another collection of pithy parodies and caustic caricatures!

Based on the chaos of the year gone by, they wittily appraise everything from the bush fires (How do we Solve a Problem from Hawaii) to pork-barrelling (The Adventures of Bridget McKenzie) to more ‘intimate relationships’ (The Premier’s Dating Service).

As usual, few lampoonable luminaries escape their satirical sketches. Phil Scott returns as Kevin Rudd advising not to “touch the Super in the bank”. Drew Forsythe re-envisages a Pauline Hanson even more discombobulated by the English language and the “all those people living in towers in Melbourne”. Jonathan Biggins reprises Donald Trump – and Amanda Bishop is a very elegant First lady. The New Seekers become the Jobseekers and four slinky “Cats” recall Labor Party branch stacking with a visit from Julia Gillard and her “Memories”.

Of course, there are some new personalities as well. Dr Norman Swan, the Brazilian president (“there’s an awful lot of coughin’ in Brazil”) and the oft’ ignored American medical advisor, Dr Fauci.

We have also come to expect some pieces that are just as topical but a touch more poignantly remembered – and this year has given the team much on which to reflect. In front of a backdrop of fire blackened eucalypts, Biggins at the piano, and Bishop as a furry ‘koala from Sofala’ ruminate on the fate of our native animals, the destruction of their habitats and the possibility of them ending up in “that concentration camp at Pennant Hills”.

Later in the program Biggins leads a sadly sensitive parody on The Sound of Silence as images of the empty streets of New York linger on the screen behind him lending extra pathos to the tragedy of which he sings.

The show finishes, as always, with a little musical theatre interlude. This year it’s set in the American wild west. Titled “The Man Who Shot Liberty”, it features a yellow-haired, narcissitic mayor, his Italian lawyer, a grey-haired doctor who warns him constantly of a pandemic – and his increasingly socially distanced wife who explains “why the Lady is a Trump”.

It isn’t hard to imagine the atmosphere in the ‘writing room’ as these creative intellects pool ideas! I wonder how many ideas are suggested before they decide on the program. Or how many are reluctantly rejected or shelved for another day.

I wonder also if the artistic director of the STC to whom Biggins, Forsythe and Scott first broached the idea of a revue twenty years ago had any inkling of just how popular it would become.

The very first productions were scant on props and financial backing – but big on ideas and energy. There were no recorded entr’acts, no orchestral backings, little back stage assistance – yet the trio came back for more. And eventually the STC realised that it had a gem – and a money spinner, one that would eventually ‘spin’ its way right around the state and the ACT to audiences starved of live topical satire.Though this show says “Good Night and Good Luck” please don’t go into lockdown guys! We need you to keep the turkeys on their toes – and to keep us sane!

Also published in Stage Whispers magazine.