Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined
Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent
★★★★½

Betty walks into the ring, smooths her apron over her hips, leans forward and says, ‘I vont to mek you heppy!’ and, for a moment, you think nothing has changed. You think you’re back in 70s Australia, in all its gleaming white, homophobic, casually racist glory. The audience shifts uncomfortably as they obey Betty’s orders to smile, to laugh. Reg Livermore created a sensation with Betty Blokk-Buster Follies in 1975. But should we really find this funny in 2020?

Josh Quong Tart in Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined.

Josh Quong Tart in Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined.Credit:Daniel Linnet

Now, as then, the joke’s on us. Red Line Productions’ reimagining of Livermore’s explosive show, created with his imprimatur, rocks the Spiegeltent with satire that is at once hilarious and accusatory. We may all be woke now, but we’re still a mess of hang-ups and hypocrisies, and Betty is here, in the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, to show us. That’s the thing about looking in the mirror. You don’t always like what you see.

While the smokiness today is more dry ice and bushfires than cigarettes, Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined captures much of the original atmosphere. There are the outrageous costumes (including the grand cloak, and with a new suite of diaphanous capes). There are the comic vignettes of characters like the desperate house wife and the old man (who now has things to say about climate change and marriage equality). And all this intertwined with fantastic, bombastic musical numbers. Some of the oldies are back, such as Billy Joel’s Captain Jack and Lou Reed’s Take A Walk on the Wild Side, but this reimagination also integrates searing performances of well-chosen contemporary hits such as Jamie Cullum’s The Age of Anxiety and a cover of Tones and I’s Johnny, Run Away which could make you weep. The songs are brilliantly supported by Andrew Worboys heading up a four-piece band, with Kaylah Attard, Melissa Pringle and Elanoa Rokobaro as Betty’s dazzling backing trio.

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In the end, however, it’s all about the star of the show. As Betty, Josh Quong Tart is simply extraordinary. Everything about him is captivating: his throaty, powerful singing voice, his physicality, his exquisite comic timing, the way he walks up to the microphone and grabs it like a long lost lover. Even his sweat is charismatic. This is not an impersonation. This is a revelation. Long live Betty!

Betty Blokk-Buster Reimagined runs in Sydney until January 26



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