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Review: Managing Carmen at The Guild Theatre, Rockdale

By Priscilla Issa

Witty, snappy and ultimately thought-provoking, Managing Carmen is a rollercoaster of emotions.

Agent Rohan (David Hines) attempts to create of Brent, a two-time Brownlow award medallist and beloved AFL star, an even greater commercial success story. This story has to be far greater than he already is; in fact, it need be a whopping $30 million greater. Amidst the commercial deals, the television advertisements and the red-carpet walks, there is something standing in Brent’s way. Put him under camera spotlights and he misses the sell-a-product mark considerably. Hoping to get to the bottom of his bland demeanour in front of a camera, Rohan hires renowned psychologist, Jessica (Donna Randall). Jessica discovers that it is more than just nerves stifling Ben’s ability to sell.

In a surprising, and fashionable twist of events, it turns out that within the comfort of his luxury apartment, Brent dons the most up-to-date, most on-point, most “in” brand names – brand names for women. Brent is quick to reassure Jessica that he is not gay (not that there would be a problem with this, anyway); he merely likes dressing up in womens’ clothes, and looks good too! Of course, Rohan sees red. Imagine the loss of endorsements and the embarrassment flanked on him, never mind the potential harassment inflicted on Brent.

So, what does a money-hungry manager do? Hire a bargain-talking hooker to be Brent’s WAG until the end of the season, of course. Maybe she can seduce him, whip him into boyfriend-material shape, or at least keep the press – a weasel of a cross-sports journalist/celebrity-gossip columnist, Max (Chad Smith) – off Brent’s back. But, of course, she was only in it for the money, so she can’t help. What about the psychologist? Well, she has fallen (unsurprisingly) in love with Brent and so cannot seem to convincingly separate emotion from rationality. All this while, the foul-mothed Max blackmails Rohan, suspecting that there’s a pile of lint at the end of this rainbow. His number one ambition: drag Brent’s glorified name through the mud. 

And of course he pulls this off. What slime ball journo out of the News of the World-age wouldn’t? Everyone dashes around in a frenzied panic trying to come up with ways to deflect the barrage of media comments and potential downfall of the club. No one stopped to think that maybe, just maybe…Brent should confront the media and come clean -  as clean as the beautiful garments that caress his AFL-toned physique.

David Williamson would never leave such a thought-provoking play unresolved. Director, Chris Searle, cleverly props Russell Godwin on a media platform, side of stage. There, a speech of empathy and tolerance is delivered to rapturous applause. But it doesn’t end there. You can’t have a cheesy, whimsical, satirical Australian play end without a boogie, where everyone’s dressed in drag. Even Max gets to shaking his hips.

The set is simply designed with bar stools (bar scenes), office chairs (Rohan’s office), a lounge (Brent’s apartment), and a screen where advertisements, flashbacks and field footage were projected. There was a delightful symbiosis of colours, technology and costumes.

As far as technical prowess of acting is concerned, congratulations must be extended to David Hines, who in my humble opinion, carried the show with his sarcasm, impatience and demanding charisma as a sports manager. He also bounced off Chad Smith’s sly character well in their heated exchanges.

Russell did a fine job of delivering a charming and flamboyant Carmen. It would have been nice to have seen a little more bravado and physical dominance in his apartment scenes with Donna Randall, to highlight the differences between his character on-field and his character in-dress.

Most convincing were Donna and Russell’s couch conversations. In fact, at times the audience appeared immersed in their lines – you could hear a pin drop.

Caitlin Gleeson certainly played the money-thirsty hooker well, carrying the snarky lines about threatening to expose Brent to the media convincingly. There was a delightful shift from her character’s hatred of Brent to a friendly tolerance during the night club scenes. Both Russell and Caitlin could have done with a little more confidence in the singing and dancing segments of the play – the audience would have preferred a careless and carefree rendition of Natural Woman, even if three octaves too low, to a timid take on Franklin’s hit.

While not tear-jerking, this play hits the right spots; Searle has created a production that certainly gets the audience thinking about concepts of tolerance of diversity, particularly in machismo environments like sports. Congratulations one and all!

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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