We are the lucky country indeed — able to poke fun at our grand leader's derriere and red hair without losing our heads. That said, if you've had a gutful of sound bites, corruption, and so-called scandal, then let out all that frustration and exasperation with a chuckle at Red Wharf: Beyond The Rings of Satire. The scale of your laugher though reads like one of financial journalist Alan Kohler's graphs: the more years you've lived multiplied by your worldliness = more fun.
Luckily most of the audience had such a calculation and got the jokes with a kind of smugness that comes from having had free university education. But for those who weren't even born yet when Fraser strode around Parliament House (the old one!), a couple of the skits made about as much sense as using a slide rule.
This confusion wasn't helped by the nature of a revue which means that there is a tenuous-at-best connection between scenes, ranging from heretic-chasing Rome, to the flamboyant plumage of a Mozart opera, to outer space. However, the show was an entertaining evening for the audience, as measured by quick chuckles and knee-slapping mirth requiring the actors to pause before the next line to let the giggles subside.
The four performers of Red Wharf cram in a whirlwind 90 minutes of skits, with the overall theme of 'don't sweat the small stuff''. Scandal is so because of reaction, and beliefs change over time. People lie, humans suck, but one day it'll all come good. Despite the title implying a science fiction based revue, the sci-fi theme is actually about one fifth of the content. There is a mixture of short skits with at least three of the four performers on stage, and some solo acts.
The fodder for their folly covers state, national and international affairs with topics from carbon tax and climate change, to Abbott's negativity and the Slipper saga. The hilarity is livened up with clever lyrics in the song and dance numbers, though some songs were too fast and overpowered by the music, to understand.
One musical skit that did lighten the sarcasm was Darth Abbott's 'I Will Survive', with Josh Quong Tart embodying the budgie-smuggler himself with every leap, bound and lip smack. Also impressing with vocal depth was Amanda Bishop in the Figaro act, who also brought her perfect play on Julia Gillard's accent and deportment to the 'Julia Poppins' vignette. Indeed, you may have seen Bishop in the comedy series aired on ABC, At Home With Julia.
In a quieter moment away from the nasal tones, Drew Forsythe took on 'The Peter Slipper Handicap' with astounding race calling of unique character, interwoven with clever 'horse' names. Providing piano prowess for many acts was Phillip Scott, who also does an eerily good impression of John Howard.
Perhaps the writers Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott were hoping that enough of the audience have actually read the 676 odd pages of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake let alone understood it* to 'get' the reference — resulting in confused silence at one sketch. However, Josh Quong Tart still managed to bring the breathless ramblings of Qantas CEO Alan Joyce to life with great skill in line with James Joyce's style.
In between the skits were clever titbits of film such as stars flying by at warp speed and Paul Keating (cameo by Jonathan Biggins) popping his head in for entertaining and wry musings.
Overall, the costumes were eye-catching, and the lighting effects by Matthew Marshall added even more dynamic to the upbeat songs.
Having been to a previous Wharf Revue in Sydney a few years ago, this one didn't have the same magic for me — perhaps due to the bigger venue of the Playhouse. That said, if you are one to skip straight to the newspaper's editorial cartoon for your jollies, then you'll love Red Dwarf: Beyond The Rings of Satire.
* got about 10 pages into Finnegans Wake until I lost consciousness.
Sydney Theatre Company presents
THE WHARF REVUE 2012
Red Wharf: Beyond The Rings of Satire
Written and Created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott
Riverside Theatres, Parramatta (18 – 22 September)
Merrigong Theatre Company, Wollongong (24 – 26 September)
Civic Theatre, Newcastle (28 – 29 September)
Dubbo Regional Theatre (2 October)
Q Theatre, Penrith (4 – 6 October)
Glen St Theatre (9– 20 October)
Canberra Theatre Centre (23 – 27 October)
Venue: Sydney Theatre Company, Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 1 November to 22 December 2012 (1 to 25 November in Wharf 2, then 27 Nov to 22 December in Wharf 1)
Tickets: $35 - $60 (Transaction fees may apply)
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 | sydneytheatre.com.au