Managing Carmen begins with John Batchelor's sports manager Rohan Swift performing an impromptu, pseudo-embarrassing lounge room dance to LMFAO's Sexy and I Know It. It's an uncomfortable grace note that immediately reveals the tenor of the entire production - desperate for relevance and ever so slightly behind the times. It's actually surprising director Wesley Enoch didn't just go all out and opt for Psy's Gangnam Style.
Written by veteran Australian playwright David Williamson, Managing Carmen is a production defined by missed opportunities. Conceived as a satire of Australian sporting culture and celebrity, it involves rising AFL star Brent Lyall (Tim Dashwood) discovering an inconvenient fondness for cross-dressing that complicates his life and the professional lives of those around him. It's an exquisite premise, rife with potential. Unfortunately, it's squandered.
Rather than really teasing out the many potential ramifications of such a scenario, Williamson plays it broad. Far too broad. He plays it so broad, in fact, that much of the play feels utterly unrealistic. Even down to the central plotpoint; with sportsmen accused of rape and bestiality, cross-dressing is almost endearing. While certainly not ideal for a football player, it's far from the kiss of death Williamson would seem to think.
Which is really typical of the play's problems. Williamson doesn't seem to have the firmest grasp on that which he is satirising - either over-extending (Brent Lyall is, by a considerable margin, the smartest and most emotionally available AFL player the world has ever seen - despite being supposedly emotionally repressed) or falling short (sports journalist antagonist Max Upfield a parody of sports journalism - but from 1979).
It isn't too much of an issue when Williamson plays it safe. When characters are simply bumbling around trading insults, it's all good fun. Anna McGahan clearly has the time of her life playing Lyall's pretend girlfriend Clara. Still, when the narrative actually has to progress or anything even vaguely substantial is meant to occur, matters immediately grow awkward and absurd.
Williamson's appreciation of technology and social media, for example, seems largely to be a matter of convenience. It's there when he needs a gag but otherwise mysteriously absent. When Lyall's habits are eventually made public, it's TV shows and magazine columns that haunt him - not Twitter or YouTube. Indeed, in a post-Perez Hilton world (or even a post-Alan Jones world), why is the central antagonist a magazine columnist?
These all may seem like minor quibbles but, really, they all act as reminders that the events of the play are not transpiring within the real world. Or even a heightened version of the real world. Williamson's play, particularly with Enoch's slick direction and Richard Roberts' flat-screen heavy set, is desperate to be viewed as contemporary - but it simply isn't. It's jarring and silly and illogical.
It is occasionally fun, yes. It's even quite touching at times. Brent Lyall's triumphant speech to a skeptical media at the play's conclusion is an absolutely wonderful moment - both on account of Williamson's unpretentious writing style and Tim Dashwood's fabulously direct performance. There are little moments of honesty sprinkled throughout that consistently hint at the play's true potential.
Again, though - it's a production of missed opportunities. There's so much in the premise that could be unpacked and explored. Unfortunately, whenever Williamson gets a chance, he opts for the easy way out. The idea that Lyall's cross-dressing is some kind of phase that he needs to get out of his system (or, worse, is the product of childhood trauma), for example, is not only dumb - it's kind of insulting.
Truly, it's a waste. Great cast, great design, great director, great writer, great concept. All undone by a lazy script.
Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company present
by David Williamson
Director Wesley Enoch
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Dates: 13 October - 4 November
Tickets: $33 - $79
Bookings: 136 246 | queenslandtheatre.com.au