Canberra is the Wharf Revue’s undoubted spiritual home, Jonathan Biggins says. Folded into the warm embrace of the Playhouse, Canberrans get all the jokes, all the references and all the puns from each year’s rollercoaster political ride.
But the current run, titled Good Night and Good Luck, is the last time the Revue’s central cast of Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phillip Scott will tread the boards in the Canberra Theatre.
After 21 years, the Revue’s time with the Sydney Theatre Company has come to an end although Biggins says it’s possible something else may emerge independently. The current local run has been extended until 19 December, a tribute to the very warm reception the Revue has always enjoyed here.
Reflecting on 21 years of the Revue, Jonathan Biggins says it’s a joy to come out of COVID-19 with some escapism and provocation.
Interestingly, he’s relieved that Donald Trump lost the US election. Biggins says there’s been a law of diminishing returns operating with the former president for some time.
“It started out being funny, then the laughs got less and less as the situation got more serious,” he says.
“We were really on tenterhooks because you cannot ignore a world leader in a show like this and if he’d won it would not have been remotely funny for our audiences. But now that he’s lost, he’s a figure of fun again – there’s an even greater sense of being relaxed.”
Trump appears as the mayor of a Wild West town. Nancy Pelosi is the strict schoolteacher, while Melanie Trump is the luscious whorehouse madam. But there’s a man from the east heading towards town. What will happen when Mayor Trump discovers that he’s due at high noon?
There are newcomers to the regular cast of characters including Jacinda Ardern who will be played by returning Revue performer Mandy Bishop. She’ll be popping over the ditch to dispense a bit of warm advice on how to run the country.
Long-term favourites like Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and Pauline Hanson will also be back.
There’ll be an array of ALP factional cats, brawling their way through musical comedy including Albo the all-but-invisible cat, Fitzgibbon the treacherous cat and a blockbuster Barry Jones.
But not all politicians make it so easy. Biggins confesses that the current Prime Minister is a tough one to parody.
“Morrison proves tricky because he’s so bland,” he says. And there’s a further difficulty – as time marches on, nobody in the cast really looks like the Teflon-coated bloke from the Shire any more.
“Philip looks like Kevin Rudd, I could always do Keating and we could manage Turnbull and Abbott pretty well,” he says, “but none of us look like Morrison”.
Joe Biden, though, should be an easier call.
Biggins thinks people will be very keen to get back to the Theatre, although the COVID-19 threat continues to impose physical distancing requirements on audiences.
“In depressions and recessions, entertainment usually does well but this time we’ve been stymied by not being able to go out,” he says.
“But I think live entertainment is more important than ever, as is the need to go out and be publicly together. Live entertainment is the one thing you can’t get on the internet.”
The Wharf Revue: Good Night and Good Luck is at The Playhouse, Canberra Theatre Centre from 1 to 19 December. Visit the Canberra Theatre Centre or call 6275 2700.