Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

From Our House to yours: the Sydney Opera House

Reg Livermore

His career has spanned the decades, the continents, and the muses. He is a theatre star, a television darling, and creator of many outrageous one-man-shows. His next overture will see both the star and his producers hit new heights in a four-week season at the Sydney Opera House.

Starring at the Opera House would have to be considered a stellar moment in any celebrity’s career. To Reg Livermore, the gig is surely that: the night of nights for a man whose love-affair with entertainment began as a teenager, when he used community halls to produce stage plays, casting other teenage wannabe’s in the supporting roles.

The curtains closed on Livermore’s days of home-made theatre long,long ago. His professional career has endured many stages of its own since then. In the 1960′s he shocked Sydney in risque productions like Hair and The Rocky Horror Show. His first international tour with a one-man show was boo-ed off stage in 1980 by an unappreciative West-end London crowd. He returned to a home audience in Sydney who lapped up everything he dished out and still craved more – but Reg Livermore suddenly took a bow from public life, retreating to Wentworth Falls.

It was around this time that Bob and Annette Charter opened their Guest house and Cabaret room at The Clarendon. Throughout the 80′s the duo worked together – writing, producing, and performing at their theatre-restaurant in Katoomba. Canadian born, Bob Charter had a background in theatre-management – and Annette had trained as an actor at both the Ensemble and the Q Theatres.

The Charters were aware that Livermore had exiled himself in the Mountains, and managed to coax him out of this self-imposed retirement and onto their stage at The Clarendon. Livermore returned to the spotlight with a spectacular new episode in his series of one-man-shows about the character, ‘Leonard’.

Livermore created ‘Leonard’ in the 1970′s, as a tribute to the actor Harry van der Sluice, best known as Roy ‘Mo’ Rene – a stand-up comedian from the heyday of Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre. Mo’s radio show ‘McCackie Mansions’ earned him a cult-like following in the pre-television era, and he is remembered by Australia’s entertainment industry through the annual ‘Mo’ Awards – and of course, through Leonard.

Leonard’s story is set in the Blue Mountains. His daughter owns a craft shop in Leura; her husband works in local council. And in this latest chapter, Leonard’s life (as usual) straddles the full urban-catastrophe. The character finds himself wondering if his own daughter has incarcerated him in a nursing home, where a nurse is trying to euthanase him. Leonard searches for an escape hatch, as he needles himself about the wrong turns on life’s path he has taken.

“Leon and I have become quite close over the years,” Livermore says affectionately of his stage-persona – a character he confides who is partially an alter-ego. “But I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. He’s chauvinistic, not the least bit politically correct. He is opinionated, he has difficulty in relating to other people – especially his wife and daughter. But as with all of my shows, you have to expect the unexpected. The situation seems quite bleak, but something quite surprising always happens.

“At first I couldn’t see myself fitting into The Clarendon. It’s an intimate theatre – with only around 95 seats,” he says. To Livermore’s surprise, the show fitted into The Clarendon just fine. Leonard has since returned for many encores, as well as touring Australia, with sell-out seasons at the Melbourne Festival, The Ensemble Theatre, and many regional centres.

In December, the Livermore-Charter team will take Leonard’s Last Hurrah to the Sydney Opera house, playing to an audience capacity of 400 a night. The show ran a sell-out season at The Clarendon earlier this year.

When the curtains close, Livermore will return to Channel 9′s ‘Our House’ program. The television show flaunts his skills as an owner-builder and gardener. Livermore left Sydney’s prestigious Church Point to move to the quieter mountains 20 years ago, only to find himself living, ironically, near a busy tourist look-out at Wentworth Falls. He opened his estate to the public for many years, but now finds his theatre and television career too demanding to continue.

For his producers, the end of the show spells time to focus on other projects: Aside from being Livermore’s producer, Annette Charter is also a full-time drama teacher at Blue Mountains Grammar School. Bob Charter will return to working with another Mountains’ identity, blues and folk musician Al Ward. The pair are Directors of the Blue Mountains Folk Festival – which will take over many venues throughout Katoomba in late February. The event is a major attraction on both the Mountains calender and the international folk festival circuit.

And as for Leonard, for a time, he will be put to rest – but the whisper in the mountain air is that he’s not finished yet. Rumour has it that Leonard will return for one final chapter at The Clarendon some time in the not-too-distant future. And who knows, maybe that show will take the team back for another season at the Opera House.

Home Sweet Home – Leonard’s Last Hurrah plays at the Sydney Opera House Playhouse until 23 Dec. For bookings phone Tickitek on 9266 4800.

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