Review: Betty Grumble: Love & Anger (or Sex Clown Saves the World Again!)

Shock and awe is key to Betty Grumble: Love & Anger, but there’s plenty of strength and comfort to be taken away from this avant-garde performance.

Betty Grumble goes from zero to 100 in the first few minutes of the show. “Too much too soon?,” performer Emma Maye Gibson asks the audience afterward. For some attendees in her season, it almost certainly will be, but for tonight’s audience, it’s a funny and confronting opening to a show about empowerment and freedom.

One person’s obscenity is another’s beauty, and this obscene beauty queen cleverly blends the grotesque and gorgeous throughout. Part-cabaret, part-performance art, Love & Anger sees Gibson shift between her own self and her avatar Betty Grumble in a series of physical and spoken word acts that deliberately confront the world’s status quo. In particular, Gibson channels her rage at patriarchal structures, the expectations put upon women therein, and oppressive, chauvinistic capitalism.

The reader might then presume that this is a dry, preachy performance, but Gibson’s anger is laced with love for the audience and lashings of comedy. Even when taking readings from Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, Gibson walks a line of searing critique and hilarious satire. Another good example of this is the satirical exercise routine where drag queen avatar Betty Grumble, kitted in a leotard emblazoned with the statement ‘READ THE VIBE’, hilariously reclaims the practice in an empowering call for strength.

Reclamation is an important feature of Love & Anger overall. Language, the woman’s body, makeup rituals and dance traditions are all taken back to be used here in Gibson’s satirical arsenal.  One scene, where a buck-toothed, hyper-glamorised Betty Grumble performs Don’t Cha by the Pussycat Dolls (that group itself perhaps the most highly constructed sexualised corporate creation in recent memory) like a fearsome sexual beast, complete with gorilla-like ground slaps and coquette-ish turns of the head, is a brilliant show of this reclamation.

There are also more personal segments, where Gibson lets the mask slip to reflect on her family and upbringing. Some of these transitions are well managed, while others feel slightly incongruous to the rest of the performance and stray from its core themes.

There is certainly a lot of love and anger in this outing, but shock and awe is here in spades too. From the opening sing-along set piece that leaves the audience stunned and cackling, to a finale that brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘rose water’, this highly capable performer is utterly unafraid to put her body on the line and leave the audience with plenty of souvenirs to take back out into the world.

Betty Grumble: Love & Anger (or Sex Clown Saves the World Again!) performed at the Cupola in the Garden of Unearthly Delights on Thursday, March 15 and continues there until March 18.

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