THEATRE: 23 OCTOBER 2016
By JOHN ROZENTALS
The Wharf Revue 2016: Back to Bite You, written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsyth and Phillip Scott
Sydney Theatre Company (https://www.sydneytheatre.com.au) | Wharf 1 Theatre, Walsh Bay, Sydney | Until 23 December
I’m really not sure how many annual presentations of Sydney Theatre Company’s The Wharf Revue I’ve been to see, but it must be three or four prior to the 2016 version.
I am sure of one thing, though, and that’s that Back to Bite You is the best I’ve been to, quite a call when you consider the standing that this evening of political satire enjoys among aficionados of the genre.
There really isn’t a weak link in some 90 minutes of sharp observation, and the regular creative team of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsyth and Phillip Scott excel themselves right from the first, quite lengthy sketch setting the Australian Parliament in ancient Rome. Biggins’ portrayal here of Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz would have to be classified as cruel if it wasn’t so funny and unnervingly accurate.
In such a solid line-up of sketches, it’s almost impossible to single out highlights, but here are just a few Drew Forsyth as Katter and Hanson, Jonathan Biggins as just about anyone he lampoons, but especially Trump and a fan-dancing Abbott, Phillip Scott as Brandis, on the piano generally, and particularly poignantly in a soliloquy about terrorism.
I must admit that the beyond-the-grave sketch of the left-wing stalwart Bob Ellis initially had me worried and thinking that this might be the weak link I was half expecting.
But quite to the contrary. By its end I was close to tears.
For me, the revelation of the show was the outstanding performance of Paige Gardiner, who was a last-minute stand-in for Katrina Retallick as the revue’s only on-stage female.
Some other reviewers have come close to panning Gardiner’s performance. I reckon that their judgment is in their arse, and that Gardiner is, to quote the late, great Richie Benaud, “bloody marvellous”, especially in roles such as Hillary Clinton, Julie Bishop and a delightfully vacuous Jacqui Lambie.
Some of those same boring reviewers have suggested that The Wharf Review is past its use-by date and that Sydney Theatre Company should relegate it to the wardrobe of posterity.
Far from it. For me, the evidence of this performance suggests that there’s plenty of life in the old dog and that Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsyth and Phillip Scott, if they so choose, have a few years yet ahead of them on the Wharf 1 stage.