The Wharf Revue turns fifteen this year. Its particular brand of political sketch comedy has become instantly recognisable: a rapid cavalcade of bitingly funny songs sung by the caricatures of political greats, past and present.
The Wharf Revue began in 2000 as a cabaret show, but it soon came to draw the majority of its material from the foibles and eccentricities of politics. Jonathan Biggins, one of the Revue’s three founding members, notes that little has changed about those foibles since the show began. “A week might be a long time in politics, but fifteen years is not very long at all.” It’s this steady supply of political idiosyncrasies, Biggins claims, that has honed the Wharf Revue’s satire to its current razor-sharpness.
The highlights of the show are varied. They include an operatic, Wagnerian rendition of the Latham Diaries, a basement-dwelling version of Kevin Rudd as the Phantom of the Opera, and the ever-so-slightly senile duo of Paul Keating and Bob Hawke plotting a “bottom-up restructuring” of their nursing home. The sketch featuring George Brandis in a balletic tutu was also en pointe. Impressively, although #libspill occurred only the night before the opening performance, the Revue managed to work a triumphant Malcolm Turnbull into the show, despite the fact that it normally takes about ten weeks to write and rehearse a typical Revue sketch.
There was some inconsistency in the quality of the sketches. The one rap song in the Revue, for instance, did suffer noticeably from the symptoms of having been written by old white men who, it’s safe to assume, don’t listen to a lot of hip-hop. This pales, however, when set against what is perhaps the chief delight of the Wharf Revue, which is the masterful mimicry of our politician’s ticks, verbal and physical. You often don’t recognise these ticks, although you have seen them so often, until you see them acted out live in front of you. Julia Gillard’s slight waddle, Tony Abbott’s compulsive nodding and lip-licking and Paul Keating’s repetitive drawl were all eerily accurate. Also deserving of a mention in any review is Amanda Bishop’s singing voice, which is excellent, except of course where it was replaced by a beautiful imagining of Julia Gillard’s complexly atonal nose-warbling.
The Wharf Revue is an all-singing, all-dancing political satire show. You don’t need to be entirely up-to-date with politics to follow it, but it will probably appeal most to those who are. It runs for 90 minutes, and almost every one of those should afford you at least a chuckle.