Reg Livermore - Firing Squad

Firing Squad

During 1983 the last of my large scale one-man shows Firing Squad played the Her Majesty's Theatres in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.

On June 5 that year John Larkin of Sunday Press wrote: "In Earth time it is 1975 since Reg Livermore first set the stage on fire with his one-man shows, yet now it seems light years and tears away. So much has happened to Australia since the mid 1970s that we might hardly remember who we were then. But Mr Livermore is not forgotten, for his generous offerings that brought him through Betty Blokk Buster, Son of Betty, Wonder Woman and Sacred Cow, shows without equivalent in this country as they mirrored carpet baggers and losers, anarchy and archangels.

Now in his new show, Firing Squad, he has moved with the times, seizing the painful fact that it isn't so simple any more, and trying to come to terms with it. The times have been tough, too, on Mr Livermore since his earlier successes. The burning has perhaps equipped him better to reflect the pain of the people in Australia today, the confusion of values, the lack of ideals, the pessimism, the fear. Firing Squad is dedicated to all that. Livermore is a voice in the wilderness of the world. We are fortunate to have his company."

I suppose the content was risky; talking about economically bad times when the country is actually having a bad time is not the best way to entice an audience into the theatre; it was also politically naive. One of my characters, Red Baron Betty conducted a brash 'follow the bouncing ball' singalong with the audience, inviting them to give the recently fallen Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser a huge kick-in-the-arse send off, while celebrating the arrival of the new P.M. Bob Hawke. It was a happy release for many, theatrically I certainly thought it was something to sing about, but I did observe stony faces out front from time to time. Lady Viola Tate, formerly an ardent fan of mine, was not amused; Viola was a close friend of Malcolm Fraser's mother, and thought the song unnecessarily hurtful. I explained to her that it was not meant to be so personal, indeed had Bob Hawke just been voted out I would have done the same. She seemed only mildly reassured; I was sorry to have offended her.

In Australia in 1983 the country was in deep recession and not enjoying it. In Firing Squad I tried to reflect the nature of those difficult times, but I think the audience found it too much like the real thing.

Harry Kippax wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald: "Here is Reg Livermore at the top of his bent, riding high on a black juggernaut of a show that will be compulsive viewing for his admirers ... quintessential Livermore, a sustained cry of outrage and pain, his white clown's face as implacable as a skull behind the flicker of accusing eyes.The crimson highlights on his cheekbones look like open wounds. We watch Petrouchka as poet and moralist. His derision may upset some, for though its laughter, spurting from grotesque couplings of simile and metaphor, is irresistible, its anger is scorching. But grotesquery, I take it, is the condition in which that volatile imagination, haunted by visions of death and disintegration, works at full pressure.

Livermore dominates all – and that includes the audience. He has the unchallengeable authority of the great individual performer. He fascinates rather than entertains. We have nobody more remarkable on our stage. But let me mislead nobody. This is entertainment, of its own kind, and bracing entertainment at that, as that twinkling, accusing skull leads us with speech and fevered song, and icy discipline, across a tightrope above a sunless abyss. Trust him, go with him; laugh at his outrageousness; savour his outrage – but don't look down."

Photo: 'Pressure'