Out of The Wharf but still splitting our sides

Amanda Bishop as Jacqui Lambie in The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms. Photo: Vishal Pandey/supplied.

Review: The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms, Seymour Centre, Chippendale – Thursday, 25 November, 2021. Reviewed by editor-at-large Gary Nunn.

★★★★ 1/2

This really is the treat we needed at the end of a difficult year. 

It’s also a misnomer: moving away from The Wharf – the Sydney Theatre Company’s home base in Walsh Bay – for the first time in its 21-year-history, and into the Seymour Centre.

Its fiercely loyal and dedicated audience has followed it; it has a cult-like status amongst those who return annually. They were cheering before the curtain had ascended or a note had been sung. 

If you’ve never been, expect a gloriously non-PC satire on the year that was, with a heavy focus on lampooning politicians; mainly Australian ones, with appearances from Jacinda Ardern, Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

The skits are mainly musical, with some genuinely hilarious video interjections – an inspired Ardern impersonator joins us via one of her notorious Zoom check-ins. The accent may be off, but that only adds to the ridiculousness and humour.

There were moments – many moments – when I was bent double, wheezing with laughter. The four performers – Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe, Phillip Scott and Amanda Bishop – are insanely talented and versatile. The three men are also the show’s creators, writers and directors. 

Hat tip to the makeup and wig manager (Margaret Aston), too – the men are consistently dragging up, to convincing effect. And that Michaelia Cash bouffant wig? Spitting image. 

Amanda Bishop channels Michaelia Cash in The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms. Photo: Vishal Pandey/supplied.

You’d need to be pretty into politics to get the in-jokes, which veer between racy and very close to the line, but that’s exactly what satire should be.

If you know why “pork-barrelling in Josh Frydenberg’s electorate is particularly ironic” – then this is the show for you.

With quick fire, original analogies (“there are so many stop signs here, I thought it was a stretch of WestConnex dotted with Irish backpackers”) and contentious parodies (Joe Biden accidentally addressing the nation with his back to the lectern had me guiltily castigating myself for laughing so hard) you will leave with ab muscles stronger than when you entered. 

The sheer breadth of the actors’ repertoire is delicious to behold; witty versions of popular songs written to reflect the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of Australian politics. It really is a unique joy to hear Jacqui Lambie lecturing Gladys Berejiklian on a “dud root after two bottles of red”. As for the latter politician, Bishop’s impersonation of her singing with an actual Armenian band had me crying: “Kerry Chant, harbinger of doom / that woman knows how to clear a room!” 

One noticeable omission from parody was Scott Morrison. That’s not to say he wasn’t skewered; whilst MPs like Matt Canavan, Pauline Hanson, Mark Latham and Kevin Rudd were directly (and brilliantly) impersonated, ScoMo’s lampoonery came via the genius of musical director and performer Phillip Scott, whose formidable piano and singing skills did the job for us, taking aim at the slow vaccine rollout, amongst other blunders. 

A surprisingly poignant skit featured the Queen, whose fragility and combination of sage knowledge and cultural ignorance is unexpectedly endearing – until you hear her complain about the number of teeth in Olivia Coleman’s mouth, by which point, I was just dead. Hilarious. 

Special mention to Amanda Bishop’s physicality – she has nailed Berejiklian’s trepidatious walk as much as she has Michaelia Cash’s lurch (as well as accent and brashness).

Phillip Scott, Amanda Bishop, Jonathan Biggins and Drew Forsythe (left to right) in The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms. Photo: Vishal Pandey/supplied.

Not every skit is a triumph; a Bob Carr take-off starts promisingly – sometimes the cast only have to stand on the stage and look out for the audience to be in stitches – but his pompous verbosity doesn’t really land because it’s as a tedious in comedy as it is in real life.

The misses though – and there are a few of them (unaffordable property and the unobtainable dream of home ownership for millennials is just not fanfare enough for a finale) – are welcome relief from the pelvic floor ruining laugh out loud moments.

The Wharf Revue: Can of Worms plays the Seymour Centre, corner City Road and Cleveland Street, Chippendale until Thursday, 23 December. For tickets and further information, visit www.seymourcentre.com/event/the-wharf-revue-can-of-worms.

Gary Nunn is editor-at-large of the Sydney Sentinel. Twitter: @garynunn1.