Could there have been a more appropriate opening week for The Role Model? With two of our Olympic hopefuls suddenly out of contention, two high profile Canberra footballers in the bad books and the Beijing Olympics closing in, the timing is almost suspicious.
Canberra writer Bruce Hoogendoorn’s tale of sport, scandal and ‘media answers’ is a winner, however it does take a little while to warm up. It’s the story of Scott Martin, a retired Olympic swimmer in the midst of a media shaming spree after a scandalous liaison with a team mate’s wife. His agent, Wanda, is determined to get her disgraced star back on track, even though she can hardly stand the sight of him these days. Their plan to re-invent Scott’s image involves depressed teenager Adam and Adam’s well-meaning psychologist, Louise. It’s a comedy of crossed motivations, odd-couple moments and biting commentary on the rise and fall of sporting ‘legends.’
With such a delicious premise, as well as script workshopping at NIDA with renowned playwright Edward Albee, it’s a surprise this play is slow to take off. Despite clear enthusiasm from the actors and some great lines for them to deliver, the first act often feels like a protracted set-up. Ian Hart’s direction has brought out a good deal of energy in his cast, but a few more understated moments would have made the dramatic peaks stand out. There’s also an overall sense in the first half of the story that not a great deal is at stake. Scott’s attempts to bond with Adam, satisfy his agent and seduce Louise are interesting, but never quite make it into enthralling territory.
Thankfully, things improve greatly in the second act. The script hits its stride, providing some hilarious exchanges and a chance to see the characters at their entertaining worst. The comedy and action continue to build to the climactic scene which exposes the ridiculousness of the media circus and the reality of Scott’s sad post-Olympic world.
The acting was solid for the most part, with a few standout performances. As Louise, Ellen Caeser is sincere and has the ability to keep her character connected to the action even when she isn’t at its centre. Jethro Pitcher is not only visually entertaining but also has some lovely nuanced moments as the harangued Adam. While Raoul Craemer seems slightly one-note with Scott’s Olympic-scale emotions, it generally works in the context of a character who can’t exist without a spotlight. Kerrie Roberts, while certainly enjoyable to watch as the world-weary Wanda, could have milked more from her lines with some light and shade in their delivery. But it was John Honey as TV journo Jack and the wordless Robbie Matthews as cameraman Dave who nearly stole the show with their spot-on portrayal of journalism at its commercial worst. In terms of production, Helene Walsh deserves special mention for her dynamic set that allowed for seamless scene transition with clever visuals and music choices.
Underneath its humour, The Role Model has some intriguing ideas for us to consider before we settle back into the couch for two weeks of medal mayhem. Despite a couple of rough edges, it’s refreshing to see such original, timely material put together with passion. The Role Model might not break any records, but perhaps Scott and his team can be satisfied with a personal best.
The Rude Mechanicals present
THE ROLE MODEL
by Bruce Hoogendoorn
Venue: Street One
Dates: 24 July to 2 Aug