Peter Dutton skewered by satirical political revue

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When the character of Peter Dutton woodenly launches into I’m Just a Guy Who Must Say No in the finale of this year’s Wharf Revue it’s one of those “That’s so perfect! I wish I’d thought of that!” moments.

The answer, of course, is that you didn’t think of it. That particular genius moment of satire required the combined efforts of writers Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott.

David Whitney, second left, playing Peter Dutton in rehearsals with Drew Forsythe, right, Jonathan Biggins and Mandy BishopCredit: Edwina Pickles

The task of bringing to life this Dutton parody falls to actor and singer David Whitney, who has made a close study of the opposition leader.

“He actually doesn’t have a lot of physical mannerisms,” says Whitney. “He just sort of is a block. So once you accept that and do a few things with your face and the glasses, hopefully it works. But it’s the material really – when they give you a gift of a song like that.”

Joining Whitney, Biggins and Forsythe on stage for this year’s show is Mandy Bishop, perhaps best known for playing former prime minister Julia Gillard, plus Andrew Worboys on piano. The impassive Dutton is just one of the dozens of pollies and other public figures lined up for this annual skewering, entitled Pride in Prejudice.

The motley crew set to cop a hammering includes comedian Hannah Gadsby, federal politicians Sussan Ley and Richard Marles, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Donald Trump and his one-time lawyer Rudy Giuliani make an appearance in a O Brother, Where Art Thou style prison breakout caper, while Geoffrey Robertson is enlisted to cross-examine the robot from the robo-debt scandal.

“Then we’ve got Albo in Da Hood and the Merry Men having a performance review when Sarah Hanson of Young interrupts to say, ‘None shall pass’,” says Biggins.

Much thought goes into who should feature because not everyone is as recognisable as, say, regulars Pauline Hanson or Queen Elizabeth.

“We try to pick characters the audience will identify and try and work around that,” says Forsythe. “There are only so many politicians who resonate, even with a politically literate audience. There’s no point in doing the backbench.

Rudy Guiliani (Drew Forsythe) and Donald Trump (Jonathan Biggins) contemplate life inside.Credit: Vishal Pandey

“But it’s interesting also that last year we suggested we might do Katy Gallagher. We went ahead wrote the piece, and by the time we were doing it, she was starting to generate publicity and then she really got a great response from the audience. In fact, there were cheers at the end of it. So you’ve somehow got to be a bit ahead of things sometimes.”

After more than two decades writing for and performing in the show, Jonathan Biggins has had plenty of time to consider where the boundaries of satire might or might not be.

“We’re certainly not going to make any jokes about Palestinians – or, well, not at the moment,” he says. “We have in the past, not jokes but satire. You’re meant to offend a lot of people. And it’s difficult for a satirist when people say, well, you’re not allowed to say that. And you think, well, actually, we should have the licence to say whatever we want.”

According to Forsythe, the only bit last year that drew occasional boos portrayed the Greens as one of the Wiggles.

‘When we play Glen Street Theatre in the heart of Tony Abbott’s former electorate, it’s full every night.’

“A humourless Green, who would’ve thought such a thing existed?” interjects Biggins.

However, generally, there are few complaints.

“When we play Glen Street Theatre in the heart of Tony Abbott’s former electorate, it’s full every night,” says Biggins. “These are not Labor voters. And I think the beauty of this show is that it appeals to pretty well everybody. I think it’s all good so long as you’re trying to be funny, if you’re cracking jokes and it’s done without malice. I can’t see the point of malicious satire.”

And while the audience might skew towards an older crowd, Bishop says the show has broad generational appeal.

“I’ve brought my nieces and nephews along to this ever since they were five,” she says. “And they learn about the events of politics and the news by coming to the shows. It’s a fun way to learn. It’s as if you had TikTok for a musical theatre version of the news.”

The Wharf Revue opens at the Seymour Centre on November 10 before touring nationally.

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