BETTY BLOKK BUSTER FOLLIES premiered at the Balmain Bijou in Sydney on April 16, 1975.
Following a sell out eight months Sydney season the show played Canberra, the Perth Festival, The Adelaide Festival, and closed in Melbourne at the Princess Theatre on 31 July 1976.
The critics threw their hats in the air, ´LIVERMORE´S PERFORMANCE IS STUNNING - THE GREATEST THING SINCE RICE BUBBLES - THE MOST PROFESSIONAL PIECE OF THEATRE SEEN IN THIS COUNTRY - MANAGES TO MAKE YOU LAUGH, CRY, CLAP YOUR HANDS, STAMP YOUR FEET, THRILL TO HIS MUSIC AND CHILL TO YOUR BONES - A SENSATION - ONE OF THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS IN AUSTRALIAN THEATRE HISTORY - A BRILLIANT STAR´.
Getting this show up and running was never less than a labour of love; what we finished up with was a vaguely French, sort of German, European-style cabaret, but not at all Sydney; in every way it was a theatrical eye-opener. There was no formula, it was impossible to separate the ingredients and elements, the combination of this thing and that thing just happened to ´work´. It was no thanks to the Sydney newspapers we managed to capitalize on those first enthusiastic and encouraging performances: the Sydney Morning Herald refused point blank to send a critic along because ´We don´t review drag shows´ they told us. The other papers were also initially reluctant: in the end, perhaps three months down the track, a momentum at the ticket box, entirely independent of their reportage, forced the papers to pay us a visit.
The content and delivery was very personal, strongly influenced by my own experiences in theatre over the years, active and passive, as the doer and the watcher, recalling and reinventing things I had seen as far back as my childhood: Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the Tivoli pantomimes, nights at the Mosman Musical Society, the Borovansky Ballet, the imported Broadway and West End offerings, even that great post Second World War New Zealand concert party, The Kiwis. I am the sum of these parts.
Betty took place in a circus ring, on show in it was a less-than-grand parade of tawdry variety acts: a makeshift fairground of life´s dinkum battlers, freaks and survivors existing in a kind of sideshow alley, but in this instance a backstage view of it, behind the scenes. I invited the audience to face all of these people objectively and with compassion, not to judge any of them until they well and truly had their measure. More often than not my characters arrive on stage wearing costumes that are fairly stereotypical, and I intend them to be; because of what they look like and then what they proceed to say about their lives doesn´t often match an audience´s preconceptions, the fairly outrageous exterior trappings in jarring juxtaposition with what could turn out to be murky depths of their personalities. You had to be on your guard.
A performance lasting three hours on a public stage, and performed by one man, is some indication of what the show is on about. A shout no less, it says, ´Look at me, here I am! I´ve arrived. This is the opportunity of my life, I´ve got to take it and run with it´. It was and I did, which moved some to remark it was just a wank. Others saw it as the coming out of a gay man. The content wasn´t specifically orientated that way. Probably it comes down to not realizing what it is you´re projecting: whatever I am I´ve not been at pains to hide too much, in the end it was all Reg. This is what´s important: I´m acknowledged as an instrument of change, so if I did change people´s thinking, changed any attitudes along the way, then I´m proud of it. What an audience is thinking in a theatre when the lights are out is difficult to say exactly, but if the artist does manage to influence another for the betterment of our common good, then the evening could never be described as a waste of time, or even a wank. Thank God the majority saw me The Entertainer. It was only ever an act, because that´s what I do, that´s what I am. I´m an actor.
Betty brought me exactly the sort of success I´d always wanted. But there it is: the chance, the luck, the timing. The times themselves are part of everything, too. I thank Betty, the scary hairy-legged monster I gave birth to, she was one hell of a weird baby but she was mine; wherever we played she was the hottest ticket, she won me the First National Critics Award, and she gave me the courage and the determination to push on with the next thing. Best of all, she handed me the title I´d always intended to claim for myself: Star. They were now calling me ´Star´. I didn´t mind that at all.
Photo: Betty Blokk Buster