Pennies from Kevin | The Wharf Revue

Pennies from Kevin | The Wharf RevueLeft - Drew Forsythe, Phillip Scott, Helen Dallimore & Jonathan Biggins. Cover - Drew Forsythe, Helen Dallimore & Jonathan Biggins. Photo - Tracey Schramm.

Was I dreaming? Had I fallen asleep during the 7:30 Report and fleshed it out with Harry Potter and a vaudeville Bugs Bunny episode? No, I was awake, and it was reality I was glad to be in for Pennies from Kevin, a revue running-joke with a thought-provoking punch line.

The Wharf Revue is now in its tenth year, and Wharf 1 at the Sydney Theatre Company was near capacity to go on a whirlwind tour of the present political situation with a dash of the past set in. Over 90 minutes in 13 skits, the seasoned performers tackled climate change, Indian students, the d-d-deficit and the Middle East troubles. With such a wide range of topics, did it work? Well, multiply the acting talents of four into a cast of the political spotlight - faded, burning bright and burned out - and it equals a comical evening of political satire.

With the season starting in early October, the writing has been kept fresh, as there were references to news that has only flared up within the past three weeks. This is but one of many examples showing the depth of experience of the writers - also performers - Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott who have been in past Wharf Revues and teamed up for the successful Three Men and a Baby Grand.

The beginning act set the scene for the rest of the evening whereby there were serious moments and changes of pace that gave the audience time to laugh as much as ponder in silence. Most of the acts had at least some singing, and mostly covers of tunes like Leader of the Pack, 40s swoon songs and of course some Midnight Oil.

Being a live performance there were some stuff-ups but this added to the humour, and was better for it. Revues are supposed to be at least a tad amateur, though the actors were anything but. Capturing Helen Dallimore’s voice would be like freezing a liquid diamond such is the clarity and power.

The best skits were ones where the musical talents were allowed to shine, such as 'The Independents'. Drew Forsythe showed his fortitude and presence with a deep baritone Nick Xenophon in Old Man Murray, and Jonathan Biggins got out the guitar for a Hallelujah ‘strayan drawl by Bob Brown, and Phillip Scott shook his maracas Steven Fielding-style in Rio de Janiero.

The musical abilities added depth and professionalism, especially when Scott played Kevin Rudd (ear wax included) as well as he did the piano, without skipping a beat or breath in the astounding bit of song writing in 'Omnivore’s Dilemma'.

Paul Keating and Gough Whitlam are among other stars played by Biggins, who also was reborn as Pope Ratzinger - a spectrum of characters indeed.

The standout was Dallimore, who brought both brass and class to the show; chameleon shifting into Julia Gillard, Penny Wong and Michelle Obama.  It’s hard to imagine someone as stunning as she being able to play Amanda Vanstone, but yes, it is possible, and there were many smirks.

Filling in between acts to keep momentum while the actors changed were the clever and funny multimedia film bits, including the very witty recorded skit of Alan Kohler and his graphs - yes we still don’t understand them. Overall the more effective skits that got more laughs and ‘ooh that was clever’ comments had more common-knowledge topics. 

'The Democrats in Heaven' was low on chuckles, mainly due to the Democrats being out of the picture for years and thus those like me who don’t trawl through the Australian’s editorial pages like gossip magazines didn’t get the references, though there were some clever one-liners.

The 'Indian Students' skit seemed bitter rather than understanding, and the music was too loud to understand some of the lyrics.

Another low point in audience reaction was the 'Master Robert Ellis' act. Forsythe was convincing in Scrooge garb and spouting antiquated language, but it was so full of obscure references that only the most ‘politiphilic’ of punters would get every reference.

Climate change reared its solar-panelled head in 'The Colliery Brass Band', which seemed irrelevant to anything topical at first but then revealed itself to be representative of the dinosaurs resisting change.

On the serious side was ‘Possession’ about the Israel-Palestine situation and wasn’t geared for laughs; more for shock value and the hmmmm pondering moment, slanted towards the Palestinian favour.

The costumes were supportive and comical, though the actors took on the personas so well through body language and voice, they could have been wearing paper bags - but then we’d have missed out on the cross dressing.

And that was even before the footage of a Bacchanalian orgy - set at Berlusconi’s house but of course in 'La Dolce Big Eater'. Yes, with the Pope thrown in too: this skit takes stereotypes and adds more parmesan cheese, with digs at anyone fat, old and a bit ocker, and - while funny - it was a bit of a guilty pleasure.

So, was Pennies from Kevin just a comedy act, or something more profound? Certainly there are observations about Australia’s political failings, such as the compromise faced by party members, forced to toe the line or be banished to the backbench ('Constant Cave-In'). Also, Kevin Rudd’s persona of more spin-than-a-tumble-dryer-on-high, and full of as much hot air ('Kevin Potter and the Lower Chamber of Secrets'). But that’s what’s great about Australia too, that we can watch this and not fear being shot or stoned for laughing at a parody of our Great Leader. Because taking the piss is what Aussies do, and Pennies from Kevin certainly takes the cake.

If you watch the news (A Current Affair does NOT count), get stirred up about Letters to the Editor and appreciate talented versatile acting, then the Wharf Revue Pennies from Kevin will be your cup of tea. Otherwise it’d be like trying to watch the Twilight films without knowing which ones are vampires.

The Wharf Revue presents
Pennies from Kevin
Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott

Wharf 1, Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4 Hickson Rd, Walsh Bay | 4 Nov to 6 Dec 2009
Sydney Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay | 9 to 13, 15 & 16 Dec 2009 - ***Season Extended
Tickets: $45 - $55
Bookings: (02) 9250 1777 |

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