IT took some convincing to get my boyfriend to come with me on a guided tour of Melbourne’s Arts Centre with Rhonda Butchmore, the alter ego of comedian Thomas Jaspers and a loving tribute to stage legend Rhonda Burchmore.

He’s terrified of both drag queens and audience interaction — both were sure to be staples of the tour — but his love of the Arts Centre (this would be his third guided tour) and his original-Rhonda fandom got us over the line.

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When we assembled at the box office to start the tour, Butchmore’s “assistant” (co-host) Kyle Minall gave us name tags with alliterative epithets. I got “Brutal Ben”, but the best went to the tour’s unexpected guest, Rhonda Burchmore — appropriately, “The Real Rhonda”.

As we left to begin the tour my boyfriend became even more nervous about the prospect of interacting with Butchmore. In a small tour group there’s only so much you can do.

Down a stairwell and there she was: Butchmore, decked out in an Ossie Ostrich dress with a Dickie Knee handbag. It set the tone.

Over the course of the hour-long tour, Butchmore and Minall fired off round after round of Arts Centre trivia and snarky one-liners about the C-list of Australian stage and television. Patti Newton, Marina Prior and, of course, Burchmore herself copped a skewering throughout the sharp, funny and even genuinely informative tour.

Despite his fear of audience interaction proving well founded (and most of it more brutal than my name tag) my boyfriend was in his element. Jokes about Australian theatre and TV “personalities” are very much his oeuvre (the man has Bert Newton’s biography on his bedside table).

It’s niche, but Jaspers has created something quite special for his 2015 Midsumma show. If you have any love for Melbourne arts trivia, obscure Australian celebrities or Matthew Mitcham’s underwear (trust me) then check it out.

Rhonda’s Fabulous Guided CouTours of Arts Centre Melbourne is on until 7 February as part of Midsumma. Check online for more information and to book tickets.

Main Photo: Star Observer journalist Benjamin Riley with Rhonda Butchmore. (Photo credit: Dean Arcuri)

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