DREW Forsythe can’t stop himself. He’s talking about playing the larger-than-life Queensland politician Bob Katter and instantly becomes him — even without the big hat, he has the forceful tone of voice, the finger-pointing and gesticulating off pat. Then comes a rendition of Phillip Ruddock, his precise lawyer-trained language wrapped up in a flat, emotionless monotone, followed by a smattering of Eric Abetz with the emphasis on every syllable, then the distinctive patrician tones of a certain former foreign minister.
“I greatly mourn the loss of Alexander Downer,” Forsythe says, laying on the weird Adelaide way with vowels. “He was just wonderful. Any politician that can regularly put their foot in their mouth is a great boon to us.”
And all this before we’ve even touched the pot of tea we’re sharing.
Leura-based Forsythe is one of the familiar faces of the Wharf Revue, the annual satire/parody/comedy show in which he, Phillip Scott and Jonathan Biggins poke fun at some of the more inane or unreal political and social happenings of the past 12 months.
This year’s show, Whoops! The Wharf Revue 2013, will feature some of those who have made memorable contributions to Australian society. There’ll be Eddie Obeid (“a generous soul you must concede”) and Ian Macdonald (“Good King Lunchalot sitting down at the feast before him”), Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer (possibly together on the prow of the Titanic) and Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd, of course.
The revue premieres at The Joan in Penrith, in a sort of off-Broadway trial run which will take in the last three days of the current government (from September 5-7). Then after the Saturday night performance, the team will have to rewrite parts of the show as the political landscape changes yet again.
“It works in our favour sometimes because people think you’ve written the whole sketch that day. The basics stay the same, it’s just the characters that change.”
In that 2008 show they were also doing then Federal Opposition leader Brendan Nelson with Forsythe playing Malcolm Turnbull as Napoleon-in-waiting. Then Nelson was rolled and Turnbull became leader.
“But again, with a bit of tweaking of tense here and there we were able to get away with it,” Forsythe says.
The Wharf Revue began in 2000 but the team behind it has a much longer history. Forsythe and Scott did their first cabaret show together 30 years ago, at the New Tivoli in George Street in the city. Forsythe describes it as “slightly political but mostly just silly”.
Then in 1987 the pair teamed up with Biggins and cartoonist Patrick Cook to do The Dingo Principal on the ABC, with the same producers who did the Max Gillies show. While Cook did most of the writing, the others started experimenting with bits of their own characters.
In the 1990s the three men (without Cook) performed regularly at the Tilbury Hotel in Woolloomooloo then in 2000 created the first of the annual Wharf Revues. They now tour Australia, covering regional NSW then most capital cities.
But Forsythe is more than a funny man. He has an impressive CV of drama, including Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare, television, voiceovers and impersonations. His most recent role was in Mrs Warren’s Profession with the Sydney Theatre Company. “I played the fool but with serious undertones.”
He first came to the Mountains in the 1970s, building a house at Faulconbridge before moving to Leura. But the pressures of his working schedule, and his young son’s desires to be closer to Sydney, saw the family move back to the city. Five years ago he and his wife Trishy returned to Leura, this time for good, Forsythe hopes.
While he loves writing the show, initially it can be a creative battle, he says. “When we first look at it we think, oh my god what are we going to do this time, how will get our heads around it. Then the more we look the more we see.
“We laugh a lot when we write. You sometimes come away feeling like you’ve got bronchitis you’ve laughed so much,” he says.
Most targets choose themselves. “Whoever’s making the bigger fool of themselves is a standout. And then the leaders of the party - I think people expect us to cover them.”
And therein lies a problem: Tony Abbott. “He’s a hard one to do,” says Forsythe. “I mean, the shape of Phillip’s face fits Kevin Rudd. Jonathan is the perfect Paul Keating. My hair fitted Alexander Downer when it was curly and my voice sat in his register.
“Sometimes you can place your voice in another spot but Abbott’s voice is a hard one to hit and the shape of his face doesn’t fit any of ours. It’s a long wide mouth and the nose is a boxer’s nose and the ears, we can always do the ears with something. I did him as Abbottar in a blue lycra suit with a bicycle helmet on with the ears attached and got away with that one.”
His favourite characters include Downer, Rupert Murdoch (“I played him as King Lear”), Bob Carr, Bob Ellis and Katter. “I love doing Bob Katter. I got the hat from the hattery in Katoomba.
“He actually asked me to do his election campaign for him at the last election which I politely declined. He wanted me to be him. I didn’t think it was a good idea.”
He also yearns to do Christopher Pyne in the style of the flamboyant British comedian from the Carry On films, Kenneth Williams, but will save that delight for another day.
Forsythe and Biggins will be joined on stage this year by veteran Julia Gillard impersonator Amanda Bishop plus Simon Burke and Andrew Worboys.
It’s something they are well used to.
“We were doing Morris Iemma [in 2008],” says Forsythe. “He was Dr Iemma looking after the patient, which was NSW of course. And there was Iemma, there was Reba Meagher and there was Michael Costa and all of them went so we had to keep changing that. Nathan Rees became the doctor instead.”
The Wharf Revue
Q Theatre, Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre
597 High Street, Penrith
Tickets: $40 - $50.
Please note: Saturday, September 7, 8pm performance. Election Night special offer - $20 extra to stay on for after show election party with drinks and nibbles and full election coverage.
For bookings and further details contact: 4723-7600 or visit www.jspac.com.au