Betty Grumble: Love and Anger

Betty Grumble: Love and Anger
Created and Performed by Emma Maye Gibson. Presented by Brisbane Festival and QUT. Theatre Republic - The Block, 18-29 September, 2018

This year’s Brisbane Festival is presenting some of the best feminist works you’ll ever see. One of those is the fantastic Betty Grumble: Love and Anger. Don’t let the ‘anger’ part put you off seeing this show. You’ll feel more love in the room than anything else as this talented performer guides you through her mix of bawdy humour and egalitarian intellectualism.

The show feels like wild anarchy, yet you can tell it’s controlled, rehearsed and considered. The sex clown character of Betty, played by her creator Emma Maye Gibson, is a fearless, glamorous, strong, punk rock artist. Yet there’s so much tender vulnerability in the work too. The performance isn’t all rage, rebellion and drama. You’ll likely spend most of the time laughing harder than you’ve ever laughed before at this superb clowning.

The first, striking element of this modern art piece is the hand-painted costume and set. It’s drenched in incense smoke as you enter the warmly lit space. Betty’s face is an extreme clown parody of modern make up styles, challenging the beauty myth and what constitutes glamour. She’s not afraid to mix the beautiful with the ugly. Her grunge take on a Georgian era wig completes a visually stunning look that evolves throughout the show, with many onstage costume changes.

The performance consists of music and singing, energetic dancing, storytelling and performance art. Emma is a skilled, multi-disciplinary artist who works extremely well with the crowd in a non-threatening way. She has a marvellous singing voice during the musical sections and she applies her dance talent with gusto. You can tell Emma’s heart and soul is in this work.

During the act, Emma reads passages from Valerie Solanas’ Scum Manifesto, tells stories from her own life and holds a mirror to societal inequities in a manner that would fit just as well in GoMA as in a theatre. Themes of gender inequality, environmentalism, spirituality and love dominate the work. Corporate fat cats, companies that destroy the environment and political hatemongers are all skewered in an absurd and surreal fashion.

Technically speaking the show is on point. Sound and lighting cues are picked up with perfect timing. The music design by Emma with featured music by Stereogamous provides the perfect mood at each stage of the production.

It is worth mentioning that those who are offended by nudity won’t be fond of this show. Emma spends extended periods of time naked and you see every part of her genitalia. The nudity is completely justified and often laugh-out-loud funny. She presents a wonderful celebration of the female body, juxtaposed with humour centred around the less pleasant bodily functions. In that respect, the scripting is somewhat Shakespearean; jokes for the groundlings intertwining with highly philosophical concepts and social commentary. This is world-class clowning and cabaret by a brave and talented performer who is delivering important political messages.

Kiesten McCauley 

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