The Wharf Revue: Looking for Albanese (Soft Tread Enterprises)
QPAC, The Playhouse
February 21 – 25
There is a clear carnival theme to the backdrop visuals of staging of Soft Treads “The Wharf Revue: Looking for Albanese”. The simplicity of its adornment of the all-purpose set is realised in the opening number, which sees clown faces rotating back and forth declaring that happy days are here again. And it is indeed a joyous occasion to see the decades-long institution of hilarious irreverence returning to the stage after a COVID-related hiatus.
The political revue, created by the masters of musical satire, Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott presents caricature at its intelligent and witty best, with a bit of silliness too as it parodies recent years in politics. No topic is taboo in this show of sketches, songs and side-splitting satire. Colour and movement (and not just of the teal type) feature throughout from its early Greens riff on Wiggles tunes like Toot, Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red (now electric) Car, to a finger-snapping ‘Inner-West Side Story’ turf war tell of what it is like to be in debt, including a ‘Gree, Office Krumpke’ type share of all the reasons why the environment will have to wait.
As the creators observe in the show’s program notes, the new Labour Government has provided a new Prime Suspect – sorry, Minister – to explore. A study of Albo’s idiosyncrasies is at the show’s core, even though its performers rotate through his portrayal in scattered character appearances. Of particular note are a check-in with the honourable Albanese fifty years into the future and his stumble down the rabbit hole into the Wonderland of Queensland. And when he then meets the Mad Katter, Tweedle dumb and dumber Craig Kelly and Clive Palmer, and self-proclaimed Queen of Queenslanders’ hearts, Pauline Hansen, we are given an all too close to home realisation of its promotional declaration of ‘what a state we’re in’.
A range of segment types pace things along. Video punctuations featuring imagined clips from an ABC’s “You Can’t Ask That” Losers episode bring some of the show’s funniest moments from Trump/Giuliani and then Putin, as well as an attempted dissection of the Legalise Cannabis party almost usurpation of Pauline Hanson’s Senate seat. Yet, Forsythe’s transformation of ‘Ghost Riders’ into a tribute to the 41 lives lost in Australia’s longest war, in Afghanistan, is beautiful but also a little out of tonal step with the rest of the approximately 90-minute laugh-fest.
Highlights are a plenty from amongst its 16 numbers. ‘The Three ex-PMs’ gathering of the party faithful, for example, is full of back-and-forth banter between Mandy Bishop’s Julia Gillard and Scott’s Kevin Rudd, in additional to popular re-appearance of award-winning writer/co-director Jonathan Biggins in his iconic Paul Keating role (as perfected in “The Gospel According to Paul”). It is all wickedly funny thanks to the very clever script, whether it be in Pauline Hansen’s amusing mountain of malapropisms or a lyrically reappropriated Supremes medley from conservative US Supreme Court judges intent on remaking American, starting with Roe vs Wade.
The comic potential of the crafted script is realised by perfect characterisation from a talented cast of versatile performers. Forsythe’s Pauline Hanson is particularly nuanced, making for a side-splittingly funny appearance and Bishop shines in her every role, but most notably in an early slam poetry-esque number as Kathy Gallagher, in which the Minister for Finance (and more) delivers entertainment with a punch, enhanced by Matt Cox’s slowly illuminating lighting design.
Varied musical stylings also keep things interesting. From Bishop’s Jacqui Lambie’s boot scooting, yodelling number as, while hosting Tamworth’s Golden Guitar awards, she tell of life in Burnie and beyond towards fight to keep the bastards honest (another audience favourite), to Scott’s Boris Johnson’s Covid-ditty with piano accompaniment, there is light and shade within all the comedy.
Nothing and nobody is off limits in the show’s ridicule of hypocrisy, culture wars and nanny state perceptions and alike. The parody of previous as well as international personalities like President Joe Biden (Forsythe) and even King Charles III (an uncanny Biggins) means that the show is accessible even to audience members on the periphery of political interest. In its embrace of every opportunity for comedy, “Looking for Albanese” serves as a stellar reminder of why The Wharf Revue is one of the country’s most successful satirical institutions. And while it might have fake news and fake hair in abundance, its laughs are also very big and very real, making it a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Photos – c/o Darren Thomas