Australians have an instinct for taking the mickey out of our masters. It’s probably our convict stock, our resentful need to prick the pomp of our overlords, but in Australian cartooning, stage and television there has always been a fine tradition of political satire.
A curiosity though of the last 10 years of conservative government is that political satire and its outlets have declined, not increased. The coming anti-sedition laws just might go further and bury this noble larrikin streak all together.
Applause then for the return of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Revue team with what is their 11th satirical show since 2000. Stuff All Happens is all new material -“ and God knows, there’s certainly been enough heavy new stuff to ridicule -“ but their format remains the same.
Genevieve Lemon rejoins the team of regulars Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott on piano, offering a fast-paced but modestly produced run of topical songs and sketches, aided by a few bad wigs and video screens.
However, their occasional genius is in the script writing and in acting talents like Forsythe. He appears first as the lisping enthusiastic TV host of Gardening Australia, with advice on the best support for new plants like Miranda De Vine and a big pumpkin called Vanstone, which grows best on a trellis of razor wire and kept free of introduced species.
Forsythe and Biggins also return as what’s left of the Democrats, that daggy duo in socks and sandals and high-waisted shorts, nostalgically off to a new round of demos. Powerful conservative figures and policies make up most of the satirical targets -“ and perhaps it’s a measure of just how powerless the federal ALP is that they escape attention here. Scott though does a nice turn as a tramp thankfully finding shelter in the cross-city tunnel, uninterrupted by traffic.
The team’s best writing is in The Damnation Of Ruddock, an Elizabethan verse drama about the Liberal who sold his soul for the ambition of being attorney-general. This witty gothic tale, acted straight, is the sort of literary satire at which this team excels.
Some sketches and more songs fall flat and they would do well to break their format with more physical or burlesque comedy. But from ASIO’s Maxwell Smart facing the new IR regulations to a one-man Kiwi anti-terrorist squad, this is often brilliant comedy, which delivers much sanity and laughter.
Stuff All Happens plays at the STC Wharf 2 until 17 December.