Sydney Theatre Company’s The Wharf Revue has become a satirical staple on the Australian comedy scene. Considering the last 12 months, one could argue that the Revue’ sexploration of our political landscape is more necessary than ever. The players agree, and The Wharf Revue is returning to the stage with a new show for 2014, Open For Business. Tony Abbott-weary audiences will be able to indulge in some much-needed laugher after quite a tempestuous year. The Revue’s Doug Hansell chats to the BRAG about the show and what it’s like to be the new kid on the wharf.
“[The show] is taking a fair whack at Abbott and the meanness of the government. The writers said it was actually quite hard to write this year because everything is so desperate and dire that it didn’t really lend itself to comedy. It may be a little darker than years gone by, but [the humour] is still there,” Hansell says. “There’s a lot of the same issues too, such as refugees. They’ve been doing that for ten years because it’s still the bugbear of our political landscape.”
Hansell says the production will bring back some familiar faces. “The rest of the guys have their own identifiable characters. Jonathan [Biggins] has Keating, Amanda [Bishop] has Julia [Gillard] and Phil [Scott] has Kevin [Rudd]. I get to create a new Christopher Pyne, which is going to be a lot of fun, as well as play Blinky Bill Shorten.”
As for the choice of show title, it’s as apt as ever. “It’s a reference to what [Abbott] said on the night that he won the election, that Australia’s ‘back in business’, as if we’d been out of business for the last six years or something. The tagline to that is ‘back in five minutes’, and I think that’s a reference to how much the government has gone balls up. For all the slagging they did of the last government, they’re proving to be just as, if not more, inept.”
One of the most beautiful things about comedy is that comedians can explore dark subjects through the context of humour. They can offer a much-needed cathartic release when it comes to uncomfortable topics, which is exactly what The Wharf Revue does.
“They [the writers] understand this format so well now; it’s part of their DNA,” Hansell says. “You know that despite how blue some of the jokes they write are, they’re going to get away with it because of who they are, what they do and how they do it. I’ve had moments of reading the script and thinking, ‘Oh shit, that’s really quite a full-on joke,’ but then of course we’re going to get away with it.”
Hansell agrees that due to the current political climate, audiences perhaps need the Revue more than ever. “I think this will be a really successful Revue this year because, with the unrelenting cruelty and meanness of it, this is kind of like a pressure release. We look at things like the Royal Commission into child abuse, which is obviously one of the more sombre and reverent items in the show. I’m quite impressed with [the writers’] ability to integrate something like that into it. It’s still done in their style, but it’s done beautifully and it’s one of the more reflective moments.”
The actor also respects the way in which The Wharf Revue gives people a voice, including himself. “I hate the idea of being involved in politics, but I love examining the personalities and they way it all happens. It’s great for me, because I get to pile shit on the people I don’t like.”
Open For Business: The Wharf Revue 2014 is playing at Sydney Theatre Company from Tuesday October 21 to Saturday December 20, tickets online. Also playing at Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Riverside Theatre, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Glen Street Theatre – see the Sydney Theatre website for more details.