The prolific and multi award – winning playwright, David Williamson, first achieved home – grown success with Don's Party.
Written in 1971, his comic drama was set on the night of Australia’s cliffhanger 1969 Federal Election. Don’s Party was eventually turned into an acclaimed 1976 film starring Graham Kennedy, John Hargreaves, Graeme Blundell, Ray Barrett, Candy Raymond and Pat Bishop.
Notable hits for Williamson since include Travelling North (1979), Top Silk (1989), Brilliant Lies (1993), Money and Friends (1991), and Dead White Males (1995).
Rarely one to shy away from hot button topics, Williamson also has a knack for sticking his finger firmly on the pulse.
In recent weeks, two high profile celebrity trials have brought the examination of public image versus private persona into sharp focus. Hit Productions’ timely revival of Williamson’s 2012 play, Managing Carmen, investigates this polemical issue in both searing and spectacular fashion.
A high voltage story about an AFL star with a shocking secret, the author twists perspective 180 degrees, winning over viewers by walking the tightrope for big laughs instead.
This isn’t the first time Williamson has captured the macho, testosterone-driven world of Aussie Rules.
The Club (1977) was a satire inspired by the backroom dealings and excessive antics of the Collingwood Football Club. It was surely a big risk, but Managing Carmen takes that world full of clearly defined characters, stereotypes and role models, before triumphantly flipping them upside down.
Further, in much the same way Williamson took pot shots at the film and publishing industries with Emerald City (1987), big bucks and compromise are two of the core targets at war in Managing Carmen.
The question begs, at what point does a person’s fame make them a larger than life commodity, that they can no longer say or do anything away from public scrutiny?
The battle is established early, thanks to Shaun Gurton’s simple yet effective multi – purpose set design.
Featuring a bare minimum of props, a billboard sized photograph of our hero’s face hangs as an omnipotent backdrop to proceedings. Anyone familiar with Bob Fosse’s 1983 motion picture, Star 80, may be reminded of Paul Snider’s eerie and overblown visual tribute to his girlfriend, Playboy Bunny of the Year, Dorothy Stratten.
Bright and appropriately flashy lighting by Jason Bovaird, Chris Hubbard’s upbeat sound design, and Adrienne Chisholm’s lush costuming assist and delineate the quick (and often overlapping) scene changes necessary to keep the action moving.
Tight direction by Denis Moore keeps the play alive at breakneck speed. Thanks to the Tower Theatre’s intimate space, the audience is always at one with the story.
Like the manic entourage supporting the female Vice President of the United States in HBO’s hip political comedy, Veep, here the expert veteran cast of five, rattle off Williamson’s bawdy jokes and savvy observational dialogue non-stop. From start to finish, together they build and maintain interest for 90 roller coaster minutes until the show’s hilarious conclusion.
Jamieson Caldwell is Brent Lyall, the AFL’s newest poster boy and two – time Brownlow medal winner. His fascinating transformation is pivotal to the success of the play.
Like Dustin Hoffmann in Tootsie or Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon from Some Like It Hot, as with any actor playing drag, Caldwell is fully invested in the line he is walking. He is funny, charming, flirtatious, and touching all at once.
Brandon Burke plays his passionate and certifiable agent, Rohan Swift. He makes Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire, Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold, and Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose appear positively zen by comparison. Never once looking back, Swift works this delicious brand of insanity to the hilt.
As Clara Salope, Annie Last is the sexy arm candy set up by Swift.
Playing the footballer’s blindly ambitious yet ditzy WAG, Last has a natural flair for physical comedy. (Picture Debra Messing, from the long – running U.S. sitcom, Will and Grace.)
Once her character, Clara, discovers Brent’s secret, Last is in her element, shifting gears and truly taking off in the role.
As Brent’s buttoned-up therapist, Jessica Giordano, Hannah Norris is the story’s accidental catalyst.
Setting chaos into motion, her character faces the difficult challenges of bringing Lyall out of his shell, holding him back when the moment counts, keeping her own emotions in check and the audience on side all at once.
Both Norris and Caldwell share an easy chemistry together that makes their characters’ shared journeys entirely real as well.
Finally as Max Upfield, the scheming sports reporter, Trent Baker is convincingly sleazy. Wearing his lack of scruples like a proud badge of honour, there surely isn’t a person in the room that hasn’t been propositioned or manipulated at some point by his kind of routine.
Produced by Christine Harris, Hit Productions’ Managing Carmen is memorable and highly accessible evening of entertainment.