betty article


Getting a buzz out of it

YOU COULDN'T get into the Bijou Theatre in Balmain last Sunday week for love nor money. It was the occasion of the last riotous romp of Eva Braun's best friend — that naughty whip-swishing, bottom-bearing fraulein Betty Blokk-Buster. Tickets for the final night had been booked out two months before, and the 800 Betty B fans who filled the theatre stamped, cheered, clapped and laughed themselves silly. AH that frenzy and adulation — someone said afterwards it was like Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. "I wished I'd been in the audience myself." said Reg  Livermore, drinking a Christmas Eve vodka and apple juice before flying off to Rome for Christmas and Majorca for a swim. Going with friends — "like a dog on a leash" — so he doesn't have to plan anything, doesn't have to think. Liver­more, in jeans and T-shirt and looking a little peaky after eight months of his blockbusting one-man show on stage three hours a night, six nights a week, audiences demanding his blood and him giving it. Being Betty Blokk Buster and the football-playing ballerina Vaseline Amyl Nitrate and Tan the circus lady and all the other mad, sad or wonderful characters.
Never stinting, feeling a little beige some nights, but never giving less than everything.
No, it's not true he's lost two stone. He's lost five pounds, mostly from the fact. Betty's bottom remained pigeon-plump to the last curtain — not a dimple gained.
Livermore is 37 and, true to the tradition of clowns, grotesques and other flamboyant creatures of the theatre is, away from the stage, quiet, introverted, subdued, sensible. Aunts and bank managers would be re­assured. Come to think of it bank managers would be delighted. The Betty Blokk Buster Follies, the show that some of the critics didn't bother to review, has been one of the great commercial successes of 1975. Five dollars 50 cents a seat, a one-man, one-band, three-singer show that filled the theatre night after night for eight months and could have run another six.
The double-album made by Festival has become a bestseller, and two weeks ago the show was filmed for screening in the movie houses. Livermore is threatening to write the book.
"But please don't talk about the money — it's so vulgar." he said, smiling, leaning back in an expensive chair in the sitting room of his handsome terrace home in Woollahra. (There was a patch on one knee of his jeans — a patch of fashion, not necessity.) And we won't talk about the make of the car that is snuggling the kerbside outside. We can talk about houses. There's the house at Church Point and this new one, bought just a month ago. "I like houses, I really do" he said. "It's to do with fantasies. Putting oneself in different surroundings and getting something of a buzz out of it." He's got enough freckles to be Irish; perhaps it is also the Irish thing to do with property and acquisitions. There are two Fred Williams on the walls and the furniture and furnishings would get a Vogue Living award, rich, fashionable chocolate colours predominate. There aren't many books in the bookcase. "I read one Patrick White novel a year and that usually lays me out and I can't cope with anything else" he said. He is reminded by the friend who is mixing the vodka and applejuices that he read a biography of Nijinsky. Ah yes, Nijinsky.
Two of the largest paintings in the room are Reg Livermores — one, a rather tortured landscape which he calls Storm Over Dubbo. We are not going to talk about Dubbo either (A year ago, after spectacular success as the transvestite Dr Frank N. Furter in the Rocky Horror Show, he ran away to Dubbo to become a motel restaurant manager. "At least I came out of it knowing where I belong." be said).
The paintings are a reminder of the diversity of his talents. He has had two one-man shows at the Macquarie Galleries in Canberra and both sold well. He has had his own shows on television. He has played every type of role in tent theatre, panto, Shakespeare, melodrama, farce, revue, Gilbert and Sullivan. At 13, he was being compared to a young Orson Welles. He has written four stage shows which have been produced and one, a musical called Ned Kelly, which has not. He has been both praised and damned by critics, been flush and been broke. Success hasn't been hard but has taken time. Australian management was not always a help. "You spend 18 years in the theatre and they don't want to put your name outside," he said. It is no secret that he will never work for Harry M. Miller again.
As an outrageous Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar and as the outrageous Dr. Frank N Furter in  the Rocky Horror Show,  he attracted such a following  that  the entrepre­neur Eric Dare decided to back him  in a show of bis own. Livermore suggested "Reg's Show" as the title but no one was very enthusiastic; Betty Blokk-Buster Revue then?   Betty Blockk-Buster Follies? Was Betty the name of the character in the show, asked  Mr Dare.    She wasn't but Livermore decided to, make her one. The publicity photographs were taken in Melbourne before Livermore had any idea of what the show would be about. He went to a costume hire place, saw an apron, feather duster and a cap and Betty Blokk-Buster became clad (well, half-clad anyway). He'd always had a thing about French maids, always wanted to pose for one of those naughty French calendars. Only Betty became German. The rest of the show? - "I got drunk one night and let my imagination wander." The show was so physically demanding that anyone who saw it in its first days thought that Livermore could not possibly survive more than a few weeks. Livermore also had some doubts. I kept myself in cotton wool like a peach at Fortnum and Mason, he said. "For the first five months I really thought I shouldn't do anything. I'd stay in bed till 11, shuffle to the television, shuffle to the shop, have an afternoon sleep. Then one day I had some appointments and got myself activated and found I could go on." He would get to the theatre at 7 - I could do my makeup in 15 minutes and my nails in 10 and then I'd wait. I can't tell you how loath I was to the idea of going on stage. I suppose I knew what I was in for when I got there. I would sit thinking “It's getting nearer — it's getting nearer. By the time I got off I was a real wreck.”
No, he didn't take vitamin pills. Or salt tablets or drugs only a couple of gins when it was all over. But it   was amazing what audiences   expected   of   you. There are the ones who want to see you and then feel they own you and want some sort of deep personal involvement. It’s very difficult to say no, but in the end it has to be said.   At first he was horrified to hear a voice saying, "He's not seeing anyone tonight,"   knowing that: he had given the instructions. But what surprised him most of all was the acceptance of the show by so many different kinds of people. Whole families had written saying thank you, thank you for brightening their lives, extending horizons. Even the Festival of Light people hadn't complained about the Festival of Light number, although three young Jesus freaks had written nice letters asking him to reconsider his attitude. After his five-week holiday he will take the Blokk Buster Follies on tour to Canberra, Perth, Adelaide for the Festival, and Melbourne and then overseas. An approach from a top London entrepreneur has already been made.
He is a little apprehensive about venturing out of Australia because here be feels among friends, here the show is "an affectionate occasion."
"But I don't think I can avoid it," he says. "The whole business of theatre is that you put yourself up there to be knocked down or given a bit of a clap." The bit of a clap be was given last Sunday week was still ringing in his ears. "It was the best moment in my life," be said. "If nothing else happens in my life it wouldn't matter" Fortunately for theatregoers other things are to happen. He already has his next show planned. He’s had it in his head for three months. It is, he promises, a surprise.