Frank Barnes

The Wharf Revue 2017: The Patriotic Rag

Written and created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott

Sydney Theatre Company

Wharf 1

The year may have ended for some, but I still have a few shows to see including Muriel’s Wedding The Musical, which has opened to rave reviews. I also hope to catch Australia Day written by Jonathan Biggins. It is a great look at ourselves, very funny and playing at New Theatre. If you visit Melbourne in late January, do try to catch The National Theatre production The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is brilliant. Then there is the Sydney Festival where there are lots of diverse choices including the National’s Barber Shop Chronicles, the contemporary dance Tree of Codes, cabaret/circus including Ireland Riot starring Panti Bliss, who led the “Yes” campaign in the same-sex marriage plebiscite, Briefs and Randy Rainbow.There’s some feminist history with The Town Hall Affair, which looks into the meeting where feminists including Germaine Greer clashed with writer Norman Mailer.

Next year looks like being a big musical retro year with The Book of Mormon taking up residency at The Lyric. It will stay there for a year at least is my prediction while elsewhere we get Mamma Mia, Jersey Boys and Priscilla, Queen of The Desert returning. I am predicting Muriel’s Wedding will have a big life when the initial run finishes. This was a product of the short-lived residency of Jonathan Church. I am hoping the STC might stage some further musicals but we still have Hayes Theatre, which goes from strength to strength with next year’s program looking good including Gypsy with Blazey Best playing Mamma Rose.

In this year’s Wharf Revue, the woman is the aforementioned Blazey Best. Sharing the stage with the three legends, Biggins, Forsythe and Scott must be daunting but she not only holds her own but also creates some of the best female characters we have seen in years. It is amazing to realise that this all started at The Tilbury Hotel and the little show Three Men and a Baby Grand. The annual revue has grown so much that next year it will be in the big theatre across the road from the Wharf, but that is really because the Wharf is being refurbished.

We don’t get to see a lot of political satire but The Wharf Revue is now in its 20th year. Back in the day there was the Phillip Street revues, which included political satire and Mavis Bramston and New Theatre did the hard stuff with shows such as On Stage Vietnam and It’s Time to Boil Billy. The Wharf revues are now an institution and it will be interesting to see how they go when Phillip Scott leaves after this season. He will be hard to replace but I have no doubt he will be replaced by someone great. It will be hard to ever forget his John Howard.

Sometimes I wonder if we need a show at all because politics today seems to be its own satire, but they managed yet again to give us the “best ever” each year.

Forsythe’s Pauline Hanson is back with his pitch-perfect capture of her mannerisms supported in this incarnation by Blazey Best as James Ashby. She morphs from Jacquie Lambie to Michaelia Cash to Angela Merkel, Ivanka Trump and the most energetic Julie Bishop. Each character is different and Ms Best captures each one perfectly. Forsythe is the consummate performer (I still remember him as “The Venetian Twins”) and here he portrays Malcolm Turnbull in leather jacket demonstrating he is a working-class man.

Biggins only has to move his thin mobile legs to get a laugh but here he had us from the opening where he portrays Tony Abbott as the green lizard in green leotards and red sluggos and his tongue working overtime. He is a great mover and dancer and along with Scott, Forsythe and Best has perfect comedy timing. Over the years the shows have become more sophisticated and they now use film to great advantage. The music is always a crucial part of the show. Scott is not only brilliant on the piano but his musical direction adds magic to the show. He also plays great characters and as well as Howard, and many more in this, he gives us Boris Johnson with Biggins’ extraordinary Donald Trump. One of the funniest sketches is his Trump doing stand-up comedy. I could rave on forever about how great they all are but I won’t. I will finish by saying, thank-you Phil Scott, I give you a hundred standing ovations.

Hats Off! to 20 Fabulous Years

Sydney Lyric Theatre

This was the last Hats Off H020. That is, 20 years of this favourite Mardi Gras show staged by ACON with Oz Showbiz Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. It is the best variety show you will ever see with our top artists donating their services. Over the 20 years, more than $1.2 million has been raised and all involved donate their time and services. This final show after 20 years was a knockout, staged at the Lyric Theatre on the set of Beautiful — The Carole King Musical. This was donated by the producer of that show and it meant that one of the numbers was by the cast of the show. This show, which in the first half was jointly hosted by the extraordinary Jan van de Stool and Brendan Moar, and the second by Chloe Dallimore and Peter Eyers opened with the Drag Queens, who have become more sophisticated over the years. As well as the Trump sketch from The Wharf Revue we were given performances, none of which was less than excellent, from Paul Capsis, Rhonda Burchmore, Simon Burke and Shaun Rennie who did a number from Falsettos that left me in tears.

Silvie Paladino delivered another version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Michael Cormick and Rachael Beck took us back with Beauty and The Beast, Nancye Hayes delighted with Broadway Baby from Follies, and Mitchell Butel delivered a very smooth One for the Money. Cabaret trooper Donna Lee showed us there was life yet in those experienced legs while Danielle Belle showed us what is probably a voice of the future. But for me the highlight was Queenie van de Zandt performing Streisand’s A Piece of Sky. She always delivers the most amazing controlled vocal range and as usual she soared. The reason it is the last, is that the mob who have produced the show have realised they cannot keep going and hopefully some of the younger generation will pick up and start their own version. This year was very special and was directed by the extraordinary Trevor Ashley. Well there we are for another year, folks. I hope you have a great holiday and try to see as much theatre as you wish.

Frank Barnes hated the STC production of Three Sisters. A very good production with a terrible adaptation by Andrew Upton. It had no internal logic. And Atlantis at Belvoir was fun but I am tired of Lally Katz’ personal life.