Betty Breaks Out is a distinctive new work launched under the KXT Popupstairs program. Playing in the extremely suitable speak-easy feeling Bordello room just above the Kings Cross Hotel, this show is original in design and direction as well as hard-hitting in presentation.
Betty (Annie Stafford) is a silent film leading lady, she sings, dances, smiles wide, does it all. Our story begins when she awakens in a low lit room, kidnapped under mysterious circumstances. Throughout the drama of breaking free, Betty begins to question why it is that she’s always the damsel in distress. Throughout we learn that her whole existence on and off-screen has revolved around building up a male fantasy and objectification. The question here is raised, what does Betty really need to break out of?
Betty’s counterpart is Fred (Tommy Misa), a charming eager and rather simple leading man. Misa and Stafford perform together with glowing charisma. Their dynamic is potent and compelling.
The great mystery of the show is not so hidden from view. I guessed the ending after 10 minutes. The time before the great reveal did tend to drag on with backstories and family histories that lacked a reason for us to care for the most part. When Betty’s mysteries are uncovered, the justification or piecing together of it doesn’t quite fall on its feet. There’s a great mixture of reason and rhymes that were difficult to catch amongst the chaos. But what drives this show is its compelling character and strong-hearted feminist motivation.
The show re-contextualizes the conversation about female safety in the public eye and I was able to look at it from a new angle. The male point of view represented by Fred was complex and emotional. What came across was the victimisation of both men and women by a masculine fantasy pushed forward in the society of the play’s world and our own reflection within it.
What makes this show memorable is its unique and exciting work in design and direction. Its Brechtian inspiration is a standout. The stars performed behind a sheer curtain, playing with shadows and shapes of the body and these moments were particularly titillating. Vignettes reminiscent of film photography made the time period feel more palpable. Work with movement and gesture also aided in making the story dynamic and grounded.
Betty Breaks Out is refreshing and unique in the look of it particularly, but what it brings to light also distinguishes it from theatre at the moment in Sydney. Playing until the 7th of September, it’s a fun and adventurous time to be had. For more information and tickets: http://www.kingsxtheatre.com/popupstairs
Director: Ellen Wiltshire
Featuring: Annie Stafford and Tommie Misa
above image by Jasmin Simmons