Not Quite Out of the Woods. Created by Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsyth and Phillip Scott. The Wharf Revue. MTC Sumner Theatre. Until Jan 29
If you had the misfortune to see Max Gillies and Guy Rundle’s Godzone last year, you could be forgiven for thinking that Aussie political satire is on the way out. It’s certainly experienced a decline. Politicians’ folly and vice are now displayed, spun and chewed over 24/7. Satire is equally ubiquitous, and has lost some of its remedial power. The Wharf Revue – in a lighthearted start to the MTC’s year – offers a lifeline to a beleaguered form.
It begins with a spoof of the ABC program Q&A. Jonathan Biggins impersonates Tony Jones, presiding over televised soundbites from famous talking heads. The funniest send-up is of press gallery veteran Michelle Grattan, who wears novelty bifocals and quietly denounces the short-sightedness of political leaders.
A loose fairy tale theme emerges, with Julia Gillard appearing as Red Riding Hood. The Ranga bumps into a woodcutter (Bob Brown), as well as Hans and Hans, who stop throwing breadcrumbs through the forest long enough to deliver a passionate ode to gay marriage. Grandma’s bed has been invaded by three independents. Julia’s unfortunate accent is spoofed, in a nod to her Welsh heritage, through a bizarre parody of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood.
Silliness takes hold, and no subject is verboten. Among the weirder skits: a po-faced David Williamson take-off called Don Watson’s Party; Tony Abbot as one of the aliens from Avatar, complete with budgie smugglers; Hey Hey It’s Saturday hosted by Mark Latham; a mad hatter’s tea party attended by Sarah Palin and friends; and an icky sequence where Amanda Vanstone gets her rocks off with Silvio Berlusconi (to the tune of La ci darem from Don Giovanni) and blackmails the Pope into canonising Mary Mackillop.
It’s a slick show, with rumbustious performances, witty lyrics and some deft impersonations. Perhaps more could have been made of the Gillard/Abbot storyline, but then we would have missed out on wacky interludes like an un-PC scene on scientific whaling, or the Eurovision Sovereign Debt Contest, where Greek pop stars in lycra sing: “Things are getting darker/When you can’t afford moussaka.”
If some of the show’s humour occasionally falls flat, or is a little arcane, it doesn’t matter. Eye-catching staging, a swift pace, and a broad comic canvas make Not Quite out of the Woods a clever and irreverent summer diversion.