Riverside Theatre, November 26


Having always assumed it was Drew Forsythe impersonating Pauline Hanson, this year one shuddered at the possibility that it was actually Pauline doing Drew. Forsythe has long hung the comedy on Hanson’s most prominent hooks: flaming hair, mangled turns of phrase and poisonous inanities. Her voice was always in that mix, too, but this year it seemed disturbingly accurate.

Hanson or Forsythe? Photos: Brett Boardman.

This was not so much the pitch – that shrill, cracked-porcelain, point-of-tears whine being out of Forsythe’s range – as the vowel sounds and speech patterns. This Pauline mostly spoke with savagely clenched back teeth, and then, when she relaxed them just for a sec, a random vowel, suddenly inflated with air, flared as if neon-lit. Or another was tortuously elongated while she fished for the next word in a thought bubble about some people being less Australian than others (especially in Melbourne’s public housing towers).

Forsythe’s biting, riotously funny Hanson shared highlight honours with a creature from the cuddlier end of the local fauna spectrum: a koala. Mandy Bishop looked so cute and sad when she walked out in a big fat koala suit before a backdrop of charred gum trees that a collective sigh of sympathy passed around the room. Her little ditty about her homes all being destroyed was hilariously delivered, without quite losing that frost of sadness. If comedy can be exquisite, this was it.

Mandy Bishop. Photos: Brett Boardman.

Forsythe, Bishop, Jonathan Biggins and Phil Scott almost pulled off the poignancy trick again in a reworded Sounds of Silence, about the US pandemic catastrophe, with images of a deserted New York. The Waiting for Godot opening between Biggins and Forsythe (waiting for the show to go on) was endearing enough, and the Seekers were amusingly reinvented as the JobSeekers. But, like the sketch about Fawlty Towers becoming a quarantine hotel, much of the show was oddly flat. There were too many over-long medleys, such as Cats remade as the Labor Party grovelling in a rubbish dump (Cats in the Ranks). No doubt the performances will tighten before the February return, but the writing needs tightening, too. Nonetheless, Biggins’s Bolsonaro singing a reworded Brazil was fun, as was Scott in a grass skirt singing of our PM’s Hawaiian jaunt. How long ago that now seems.

Drama Theatre, February 17-March 20.