The Wharf Revue goes online

The annual Wharf Revue is one of many live events which has had to move online in 2020. Now in its 20th year, The Wharf Revue is a Sydney institution in which Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott satirise local and international politicians. Originally planned as the final ever Wharf Revue, and titled ‘Good Night and Good Luck’, the online version aired on Sunday night on the Sydney Opera House’s YouTube channel as ‘A Zoom with a View’.

Puns and references to ageing popular culture, in case you haven’t guessed, are a key part of The Wharf Revue. And so, who better to start the show than a politician who ceased to be relevant years ago, former Prime Minister Paul Keating (Biggins), before moving onto a song performed by another former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd (Scott), based on a song composed in 1935?

And yet despite the opening of The Wharf Revue feeling like something from another era (or more accurately, several other eras), this was one of the best parts of the show. Not so much Kevin Rudd singing ‘Please Leave the Super in the Fund, Mr Morrison’ (to the tune of ‘Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs Worthington’ by Noel Coward) – we can take or leave that one – more the Keating opener. Biggins as Keating is quite something; he gets the voice right, he gets the gait right, and the speech he gives (largely about Rupert Murdoch) is pretty funny as well. If you watch nothing else of The Wharf Revue, let it be this bit.

Another decent sketch, and oddly the other only other one about a local politician, is Drew Forsythe’s turn as Pauline Hanson. Again, he gets the voice right and the gait right, right down to the way Hanson’s head shakes and her voice quivers, as she inadvertently delivers a series of embarrassing malapropisms (i.e. “dead as a dildo”). But as a sketch, it’s not quite up there with Keating.

And then, with Hanson and Australia out of the way, the show shifts to overseas, with Biggins as Donald Trump hosting a sort of cabaret variety show live from the “Hydroxychloroquine Wing” of the White House. Trump’s opener? A version of ‘New York, New York’ beginning “Start spreading fake news…”, with Steve Bannon on the piano (Scott).

Joining Trump in this show within a show are Mandy Bishop as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Phillip Scott as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Bishop (again) as Melania Trump and Drew Forsythe as Russian President Vladimir Putin. This feels like a more run-of-the-mill section of the show, where each politician gets a number based on a song from a classic Broadway musical and there’s not much original to be said about each character.

Merkel is serious and German, Boris is a shambolic but literate-sounding buffoon, Melania is depressed and unenthusiastic, and Putin is the one who’s really in charge of things. It’s solid enough but it also feels like satire we’ve seen before, and the high spots (if you can call them that) are Trump and Putin’s ‘A Fine Romance’ duet, and the finale, based on Irving Berlin’s ‘Let’s Face The Music and Dance’, in which Trump and Putin tell us: ‘We play the music, you dance’.

Overall, ‘A Zoom with a View’ feels like a show which had almost enough decent ideas to make a very good show but failed slightly because it hadn’t really managed to develop most of those ideas. It also feels very strange that no currently serving Australian politicians were satirised in the show. There are, no doubt, lots of COVID-related reasons for this, but it’s still disappointing that one of Australia’s best-known satirical troupes didn’t end their career putting on the best and most topical show that they possibly could have.

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