Outside the Spiegeltent on this opening night, tens of thousands were marching, protesting government foot-dragging on climate change and its response to the bushfire crisis.
Inside the Spiegeltent, a man cavorts in a mop cap and housemaid frillies.
You could be forgiven for wondering what a reanimated Betty Blokk-Buster has to say to the world in 2020.
Created by Reg Livermore in 1975 for what would become the star-making tour de force Betty Blokk-Buster Follies, Betty was just one figure in a one-man show troupe of square pegs and misfits, some of whom reappear in this mash-up of skits and songs featuring new material written by Louis Nowra and Mary Rachel Brown.
At first, the show gives the impression of one that’s been defrosted rather than wholly “reimagined”. Designer Brian Thomson’s stage, its proscenium arch festooned with lights pays homage to the original Balmain Bijou set, as does the opening minutes of the show, in which our frilly fräulein (played by Josh Quong Tart), shakes her thing, bears her bum and berates the crowd.
But after a few minutes, Quong Tart – powerful, multi-faceted performer that he is – begins to stretch beyond the template set by his predecessor. His is a heavier, more rock ‘n’ roll presence and he’s an excellent storyteller in song, as demonstrated on Billy Joel’s Captain Jack, one of the numbers retained from the original show. He’s also very funny as the monstrous Jane, an eastern suburbs killjoy who gets her kicks making others miserable. Elsewhere, however, the satire feels dated.
Musically, it’s a strong production. The on-stage band under keyboardist/MD Andrew Worboys (Tina Harris on bass, Glenn Morehouse on guitar and Andy Davies on drums) flips from funk to rock to vaudeville in a blink.
Livermore’s trio of backing singers – The Reginas – are recreated in fine style by Kaylah Attard, Melissa Pringle and Elenoa Rokobaro, who shine in a cover of Kate Bush’s Wow, the musical highlight of the night.
It’s not all gold, however. Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side is delivered cruise ship style and rendered toothless, and the show – just 70 minutes long (the original ran to three hours) – seems to trundle to a close rather than reach a climax.