Monday, August 20, 2018

The Widow Unplugged

The Widow Unplugged or An Actor Deploys written and performed by Reg Livermore.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, July 26 – September 1, 2018.

Director – Mark Kilmurry; Set and Costume Designer – Charles Davis; Lighting Designer – Christopher Page
Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 19

I reckon Arthur Kwick, janitor, employed by awfully wealthy Gina Rinestone, CEO of Time and Tide Nursing Home, not only to keep the place clean (no swearing) and proper (what, no drinking!!?) but to keep the “children” entertained, got a bit confused about 1969.  It seems from his published history that his alter ego Reginald Liveforevermore didn’t actually play Widow Twankey in the pantomime Aladdin that year, but acted in The Mikado in a revue devised by William Orr at the Doncaster Theatre Restaurant, Kensington, Sydney.

This news is important as you will find later, but in the meantime you will enjoy absolutely this ockergenarian vaudevillain, full to the goog as he is of malapropisms galorious.  Since most of the Sunday afternoon audience at The Ensemble were, like me, about as old as Kwick and his creator – approaching 80 – it didn’t seem odd to find ourselves enrolled as a bit past it, needing to have things explained.  Laugh?  You wouldn’t believe it!

Now in straight review mode, let me explain that Reg Livermore is certainly not past anything.  He is as spry, verbally and intellectually on the ball as he was as Alfred P Doolittle in Opera Australia’s terrific My Fair Lady when he was still only 78 last year (reviewed here August 31, 2017).  He didn’t tell us, as Arthur Kwick, how he had trained with Hayes Gordon as a founder member of The Ensemble Theatre-in-the-Round in the late 1950s.  Like Kwick, my memory can be a bit unreliable nowadays, but it’s quite likely I saw the real Reg in Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound in 1969, perhaps when I took students to observe Hayes Gordon directing a rehearsal (though that may have been for The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds by Paul Zindel in 1971, which Reg wasn’t in).

I may seem to be rambling a bit, but this is how Livermore’s play works – wandering through the memories – at least for the first 45 minutes.  Then after an interval (essential for a visit to the dunny by that time), we see Reg as Kwick, as the Widow Twankey.  I had forgotten, from my very young days in England, how Aladdin was supposed to be a middle-eastern story (by those people with that religion, says Kwick – what’s it called?  You know with the mosques – that’s right, the Mosquitoes).  But Aladdin’s mother, Widow Twankey, runs a Chinese laundry (including laundering money, says Kwick), and racist Chinese jokes abound.  How did this happen?  Go to Wikipedia as I did, and you find that Kwick’s characterisation is true to the tradition: .  So Reg has done his homework – but I just wondered if his acting in The Mikado in 1969 had got mixed into Kwick’s story of acting Widow Twankey in that year for J.C. Williamson.

The importance of Livermore’s show is how, behind the humour, there is a story of an insecure living.  Arthur Kwick has a sad ending, as at the last a nurse cheerfully settles him in his bed in the tiny attic room that Gina Rinestone has given him.  He works for no more than board-and-lodging, and we realise – with sympathy and appreciation for the entertainment he has given us – that his erratic storytelling means he is really just another of the “children”, whose only way out is “through the back door”.

On the serious side, here we see in action the theme of the current Platform Paper by Mark Williams called Falling Through the Gaps (Currency Press) about “Our Artists’ Health and Welfare” (see this blog August 10, 2018). As Williams notes, “At the welfare level, there are terrible dangers of falling through the gaps between psychic satisfaction and material security in their career path” and he mentions the fact that fame as an actor does not imply wealth or even health.  In Livermore’s play, Gina Rinestone (ie Australia’s wealthiest woman) is the opposite of Arthur Kwick, the dedicated actor sleeping on the streets after his men’s home burns down (not because they were smoking, he assures us). 

He talks his way into the janitor’s job (that’s the skill he has as an actor): though it’s only one step up from the vagrant’s home, and Gina won’t let him smoke, it’s the best security he can get – at the age of nearly 80.  Of course, it’s not my place to ask personal questions, but Reg Livermore’s Arthur Kwick ends up in the same place as Helen Mitchell, that is Dame Nellie Melba, who died in poverty.

Let’s just hope that Reg will live for quite a while yet, even though Liveforevermore is just my little joke.  He has an AO award already, and now deserves to be gonged a Living Treasure.

Dan Leno
as Widow Twankey
Theatre Royal
Drury Lane
London 1896
Photo: Alfred Ellis

Reg Livermore as Arthur Kwick as Widow Twankey