Lena Cruz, Simon Burke, Andrew Worboys and Helen Dallimore in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Wharf Revue 2019. Pic: Brett Boardman©

Reviews, Stage

The Wharf Revue 2019: Unr-dact-d Review (Roslyn Packer Theatre, Sydney)

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It felt an awful lot like the long goodbye, this latest edition of the beloved annual Sydney Theatre Company chuckle-fest.

It is, in fact, the penultimate Wharf Revue, with ringmasters Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott to end their two-decade run skewering the political class as part of the 2020 STC season. But you could be forgiven for thinking the appropriately named Unr-dact-d was the final bow.

Perhaps it was Forsythe’s misty-eyed Bob Hawke, gone but immediately reconjured with that quivering delivery and pinch of the ear, crooning about the good times in heaven’s piano bar. It’s a cheeky bit of satirical nostalgia, throwing back to when politics seemed saner and satire seemed further from the truth.

(All that was missing, of course, was Bob’s frenemy, Biggins’ definitive Paul Keating. But after giving us his celebrated one-Keating cabaret The Gospel According to Paul separately this year, Biggins stays in the wings this time around.)

Perhaps, too, it was the regular acknowledgement, starting with the (somewhat lacklustre) opening number by new recruit Lena Cruz dedicated to diversity, that three middle-to-late-aged white men alone don’t cut it in 2019.

One skit, with Cruz’s Kim Jong-un in conversation with two oddly British henchmen, wondered why the two Anglo Aussies couldn’t yellow-face their roles while Philippines-born Cruz could get away with playing a Korean. It’s all so complicated this comedy business in the age of political correctness, perhaps too complicated for the blokes who’ve been at it longer than most.

Not that they’ve ever been afraid to share the spotlight; the Revue has always been a platform for double/triple ring-in threats in each of its incarnations. But there is a sense of baton-changing with the 2019 cast, which welcomes Cruz, a talent of screen and stage, along with veteran board-treaders Helen Dallimore and Simon Burke. The latter two, especially, are completely natural fits. Musical director Andrew Worboys returns as piano man and bit-player.

It is, as ever, hit and miss. Some skits soar while others flop around ungracefully on designer Charles Davis’ bulb-encrusted set.

It is, as ever, hit and miss. Some skits soar while others flop around ungracefully on designer Charles Davis’ bulb-encrusted set. A sauna scene between Penny Wong (Cruz) and Jackie Lambie (Dallimore) fails to mine all of Lambie’s straight-talkin’ gold. A Chicago jailhouse duet between Julian Assange (Burke) and George Pell (Forsythe) uncomfortably equates a complicated freedom-fighter with a convicted paedophile.

But Dallimore dazzles in one skit playing opposite her video self as everyone from Leigh Sales to Bronwyn Bishop. And she gives Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump a real run for his money. Burke is a hilariously spot-on Alan Jones and manages to somewhat magically capture the indistinguishable Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his empty agenda 

And of course, there’s Forsythe’s pursed Pauline Hanson, back in the ruby wig and precarious heels. Because some things are just perennially funny.

I am far from a Wharf Revue completist. But I’ve certainly seen less funny versions. And the crowd consensus on opening night seemed to indicate this was somewhat of a return to form. There were a couple of moments of real danger, which is pretty impressive in a troupe that’s been at it for this long.

These funny white buggers might actually go out on a high.

The Wharf Revue 2019: Unr-dact-d plays the Roslyn Packer Theatre until October 26.

Feature image: Lena Cruz, Simon Burke (back), Andrew Worboys and Helen Dallimore in Sydney Theatre Company’s The Wharf Revue 2019: UNR-DACT-D, 2019. Photo: Brett Boardman©

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