The Widow Unplugged or An Actor Deploys
by Reg Livermore
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
Photos by Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until September 1
The Rocky Horror Show at the Valhalla Theatre in 1974 was the first time I saw Reg Livermore on stage as the original Australian Frank ’n’ Furter. Then came a series of one-man shows starting with Betty Blokk Buster Follies which was followed by Wonder Woman, Son of Betty and Firing Squad. The last show that I reviewed was Sacred Cow in 1979.
Now, after almost forty years, and a few months before his eightieth birthday, Livermore is back with his latest offering, The Widow Unplugged or An Actor Deploys, at the Ensemble Theatre.
Like the previous shows, it’s cleverly-written, nostalgic and sharply topical with a level of pathos for balance.
Old actor Arthur Kwick is now in a nursing home, the Time and Tide facility, and he still feels compelled to perform, so he puts on a show that reprises his career highlight role as Widow Twankey in the pantomime Aladdin at the Tivoli Theatre in 1969.
The typical actor, Arthur relives his interview for a job as a handyman and feels it appropriate to provide his list of acting credits. There are a hundred other theatrical in-jokes.
Arthur’s reflections might be autobiographical, as Livermore could easily have been quoting some of the less-than-kind and possibly justified reviews of himself and his shows, including references to overacting. “Too dramatic?”
Apart from the sharpness of the writing, one of the most impressive aspects of Livermore’s performance is his ability to memorise ninety minutes of rapid-fire monologue, even though he wrote it. To add to the challenge, there are mixed metaphors, malaprops and mispronounced words much like those used by young Channel Nine news reporters. “The brightest star in the filament.” There’s even the odd, forgivable pun. “It wasn’t written by Bertolt Brexit”.
In the one-man shows of the 1970s, I suspected that Peter Batey was the director only in the credits in the programme and that Livermore basically self-directed, but this latest production seems to be a true collaboration between performer and director.
The Widow Unplugged or An Actor Deploys showcases the skills and experience of a legend of the theatre and includes many elements of vaudeville and satire.
The opening night Ensemble Theatre audience gave Reg Livermore a standing ovation. Was it for the performance of his creation on that night or was it for his contribution to Australian theatre? For me, it was for both.