HIT Productions kicks off with Managing Carmen –  David Williamson's satirical play about a cross-dressing football player – at the Malthouse later this month. Actor Brandon Burke talks Carmen, Williamson and his place on the team.

National Living Treasure David Williamson has written another play about our national sport, AFL Football. The play was inspired by Williamson's concern over the influence of managers in modern day Australian rules and explores the almost implausible (or is it?) scenario of what might happen when a blokey footy player prefers heels to footy boots. It's a play that examines the characters behind our favourite national sport and, in true Williamson style, is not frightened to expose the turgid underbelly.

Brandon Burke plays Rohan Smith who  is the manager of football legend Brent Lyall. Says Burke about Smith:

"Rohan's job is to look after Brent's best interests," explains Burke. "And that means keeping Brent out of trouble so Brent can maximize the opportunities that present themselves. If Brent makes money, Rohan makes money.  And making money is the name of the game."

"Rohan believes the world to be a ruthless vile place, where only the strong and smart survive. It is not a place where you allow yourself to be vulnerable. That will only weaken you. Feminine values have no place. "

"In the world of AFL, the more masculine you are, the better it will be for you. That's what the public wants. And you have to make sure the great public is happy. If the public don't get what they want they will crucify you. To that end, Brent must be protected from the enemy ie the press – in CARMEN, that's Max Carter. The press will do everything it can to destroy you."

"When Rohan discovers that Brent has another side to himself who he calls Carmen, the whole world that Rohan has built for Brent is threatened, and if Brent falls, Rohan falls to. That is Rohan's fear. What will happen when big butch Brent is found to love being a girl!"

Williamson's oft explored themes of image, success and money are firmly intact in Managing Carmen and, explains Burke, Rohan is there as a character to keep the old world order in place. ie That the aim in life is to be rich, and if that means you have to destroy yourself to do it, then so be it. It's not a world where honesty is valued. It's a world where truth and people are to manipulated. ie Managed.

"Rohan has to fight the "feminine" values of love, honesty, and truth – represented by the therapist Jessica – on one hand, and the homophobic, paranoid, vengeful "masculine" values represented by Max the journalist on the other, as well as keeping the sexually rampant and anarchic Clara under control."

"Ultimately of course, he fails. The blokes don't win. Femininity wins in the end, and, surprise! surprise!, life is even more rewarding. After all, this is a "comedy". A play for all sorts, boys and girls, and any combination thereof. We welcome everybody in CARMEN."

Burke is a NIDA trained actor and has worked extensively with SCT as well as MTC, Ensemble Theatre and QTC to name a few. His TV credits are also extensive and range form Janus to  Underbelly: The Golden Mile. Films include The Odd Angry Shot, The Applicant, Neil Lynne, Mushrooms, Spirit, and The Station. His love for each medium is equally shared citing they  each have their own challenges and rewards. "What tends to happen is if you do a long stint in one form, you want employment in the other! I do like a bit of variety."

Managing Carmen is another HIT national touring project – an opportunity that would certainly satisfy that variety criteria but Burke was also excited to be involved with the project because of director Denis Moore.  "Denis offered me the role, I read the script, thought it was funny, and said yes," Burke states. " I also wanted to work with Dennis, who I had known and worked with as actors a couple of times since we met in 1984. And I'd never done a national regional tour before. It all adds up to fun."

Fun it may be but Burke has also found challenges – good ones – "The worst time in rehearsal is when you start. ie The first read through and each scene as you rehearse them for the first time," he says " It all sounds so embarrassing and you're convinced that you can't act and wonder why you're subjecting yourself to this scenario yet again! The only way to "overcome" that is just accept the fates and just keep working. "

This is Burke's fourth Williamson play and, he tells me, is always struck by the waves of recognition that come from the audience when performing them. "David has an uncanny knack for capturing Australian archetypes and Australian speech and way we relate to each other. It is always such an enjoyable experience."

Managing Carmen is at the Malthouse May 28 – 31
Tours: http://hitproductions.com.au/CAR2014.htm

Photos: Belinda Strodder