The Livermore story. The backyard child performer who dreamed of Broadway stardom. The kid from Parramatta, described variously as "the most likely to" and "the most promising young actor" in legitimate theatre, who fell into Hair, dazzled as an electric Herod in Superstar and found magnificent expression as Frank N Furter in The Rocky Horror Show.

by Ian Cuthbertson


No one who saw that show could forget the raw energy and magnetism of Reg thundering about the stage in fishnets and high heels. He was sexy, no doubt about it You sensed that he relished the role which was the essence of 70s androgyny  Butcher than Bowie, more alert than Lou Reed, the naughty campery and high energy were a potent mix   Reg was delighted to find that he appealed to both men and women • shy footballers confessed to being turned on in the foyer! And here was the rub, a universal appeal which attracted everyone and repelled no one except the Festival of Light. And a cult began to grow - an ever-reaching audience that became legendary. Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson popped in backstage Ordinary Australians came from everywhere, and they told their mates and their girlfriends. And so, with a ground swell of popular support the closest thing Sydney had seen to the Liverpool Cavern's Beatles, Reg launched the incredible Betty Blokk-Buster Follies. The show's scope and energy were unprecedented, the colour, the characters and the theatrical intensity of a practically seamless three hour, one-man performance held audiences and critics spellbound The characters wore vulnerable ordinary people who spoke to audiences directly 1976s Wonder-woman continued the tradition, but allowed Reg to develop fuller characters, particularly the women. Can anyone forget Beryl, that demonic urban housewife chained to the sink - "save a baby, break a plate" or the huge Irene - "chairs do occasionally break." Reg was becoming a folk hero and a gay champion at the same time. In 1979. The Glittering Austerity Burlesque Sacred Cow hit the streets, but it's mix of pathos and tragedy spiced with black humour, "a monumental purge' as he later described it did not find the same popular vein.   Ironically, It  was this show which impresario Hal Prince saw loved and convinced Reg to take to London It was not a success   Used to the highest accolades in his own country, Reg encountered a hostile conservative British reaction He retired for a time,  to heal the wounds in his famous Blue Mountains retreat - not emerging until 1964 with Firing Squad. The show was acclaimed "Livermore's finest hour" by the Sydney Morning Herald. Sadly, with the critics for once unanimous, the pubic proved fickle, and the show, with its magnificent Eighties feel and troupe of dancers was an exhausting and expensive exercise. We began hearing about Big Sister in murmurs and whispers four years ago. Backer's were announced and then dropped out. Reg was ready to roll again, but in the late Eighties, backers were hard to come by, some well-intentioned friends in the Blue Mountains finally talked Reg into a small scale return to the theatre Wish You Were Here opened in September 1989. People came in droves. A planned short season was extended, eventually toting up 80 performances. Rehearsals for Big Sister - A Larrikin's Opera are taking place at an old scout hall in Sydney's Hills district Actors stroll around the pastoral grounds, monk like, walkmans attached to their heads, learning lines in quiet self-absorption. In the hall itself, singers and barn dancers raise the roof. Their joy radiates eerily into the quiet country after-noon.
I asked Reg if he was happy with Wish You Were Here and was he heartened by the response?

"Well, yes and yes really. I was happy with it The piece itself was quite objectively, a little gem. Probably the simplest thing I've done in terms of my own material and it worked very well. especially in that environment. It was an ideal way for me to step back on to the stage after five years because it was cozy, because it was near home, because there were lots of my friends in the near vicinity! We couldn't advertise widely because of the numbers that wanted to come. but as it was, it was full every show, there was a waiting list for every show and they came from everywhere "

How different will Big Sister be from your other shows?
"Obviously, wherever I go I bring my own particular attitude to a show, especially the ones I create myself. There's a quality that's unmistakably myself I guess. This show has a life of its own already - it's as if we're doing some show that's already been on somewhere, I mean its been on in my head for the last five years I don't mind saying in its own way, it may be as surprising as Betty was but for different reasons I suppose the thing about this and the thing about Betty is the timeliness of it. When Betty happened, it was time for that particular thing to happen and now it's time for a full on indigenous production to be offered and I think embraced by the Australian theatre-going public. "I think we're all just getting fed up to here with the big ones, the Chess', the Les Mis', the Phantom of the Opera. And for each one of these that comes in there's some poor me Australian waving his hand saying, 'For God's sake, what about me - what about us? And the show will be surprising because there's no way that any member of the audience has any boa where the show is leading them. There's no way that you can predict what's going to happen in the next five minutes. It's surprising, it's not shocking in the way that Betty was supposed to have been shocking I don't think I could really shock anybody now except those who have never seen me. I only ever shook people because I say the things they'd Like to say themselves and they're so relieved when they hear somebody actually give voice to the things they carry inside them that it does seem to be a bit of a shock. And I'm not just taking about language it's ideas, really.*
Why do you think you had such difficulty finding a backer?
I don't think there are real producers in the country - there are opportunists who can buy a product that they see presented in a theatre overseas. They'll say Great, let's buy the rights to that and we'll re-produce it in Australia. That's basically what happens, people will take a play by David Williamson because he's somehow managed to establish himself in this country and they will do his plays come what may Other things have great difficulty unless they've got try budgets and no one's going tohave empty pockets over - that may allow things to happen but it's very rarely that a musical of some size comes along.  What was there sinceNed Kelly in 1978? Probably Rasputin and that was ten years later. People get scared off by the fact that things don't work and then it takes ages and ages to summon up the courage again. "I thought, really thought, that I wouldn't have any trouble at all, because of my track record, because I have a success story in this country and because my audiences love me. Somehow these people who were in a position to put this show on, had they chosen to do so, were standing between me and my audience I don't know why they chose not to do it - basically they don't understand me or they don't even acknowledge that have a success rate and that I do have a devoted following. Other than that, perhaps they don't Iike me, or they think I'm arrogant or they're scared of me. Maybe it's just lack ol courage."
I guess costs are a factor?
"Yes, they are. We're still managing to do this on a budget that is sensible - obvously it's been engaged at the Par-ramatta theatre which is only 650 seats on reduced prices for what we think people in that area right be prepared to pay. It's not an extravagance - were not looking for six million dollars or anything - every penny counts I'm only having three frocks in this show (adopts grand dame voice and I'm furious!(laughs)
"This is real pubic company The people who are doing it are mostly my fans Lots of $1,000 have been sold and trey are part of it. When they see this thing on the stage, they have made I possible - and I think it's wonderful. A thousand dollar unit for some people is actually quite a gesture"
You've said that gay people see you as family. Will they feel at home in Big Sister?
"Well why wouldn't they? You know, there I am playing this aging woman the love of whose life passed away 30 years before the show starts, and who has never come to terms with it. She's ever on the look out for a new man - well, we're all into that (laughs) and I'm playing it. Everything I do has a high touch of camp, there's no doubt about it
"In Big Sister I'm taking about something everybody knows about. Everybody's been in love and in their imagination, it's probably the best thing that's ever happened to them, It certainty is in this woman's imagination - and here she is, for 30 years she just hasn't had it. She's there running this dreadful restaurant at the side of the highway dressing up in cocktail frocks just in case someone should come along, and find her attractive. So she's got at eye for an opportunity. but even so she can't really do anything about it because she has not resolved that first encounter. And I think everyone has some special love in their heart that got away" Have you expressed your demons - are you at peace with your life? "Oh God (pauses) I think I have. When you are in a career like the theatre you do have an opportunity to get a lot out of your system - particularly if you are lucky enough to write your own material.  Once I got my voice and got over the initial Betty-Blokk Buster characters, then I was able to start taking about more serous issues through those women. My career is requited - I've got no anxiety about the fact that I haven't made it. My personal life has had it's ups and downs and I think I've even got that in order now - how best to approach that sort of thing without making the same sort of mistake we make over and over again You've got to live with someone who is very understanding I really see that there are two Reg Livermore's - one is me, the regular person who Likes a cozy home life - and there's this other one who has to be up there doing it.  But there's  the one who has to go along and do it for him, and I find it difficult to live with, so how anybody else copes I don't know. I have been lucky to have known some understanding people"
Some of the faces here have been with you for many years Do you find solace in your friends?

"I do The family unit, as far as the working unit, is very important to me. You see, we've gotten over all the rubbish
- we just get on with it. There were a few problems with personnel in the early days. It sorted itself out eventually
because the ones that didn't Like it went, the ones who did stayed and they're the ones who are still here - and that's
great, that's terrific because even after five years, six since we did one of my shows, we can all just get together and
away we go. We have a good time, and that's what it's all about And that's what Big Sister is all about..."