Friday, December 14, 2012

Managing Carmen by David Williamson

Managing Carmen by David Williamson.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, directed by Mark Kilmurry, designer Steven Butler, choreographer Shondelle Pratt, hair and make-up Helen Thatcher, wardrobe Lisa Mimmocchi.  December 6, 2012 – January 26, 2013.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 13
Photo: Queensland Theatre Company

The background to the production of this new play by David Williamson, in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney, is complicated.  I have not been in a position to see the Wesley Enoch version at QTC and Black Swan, but I suggest you read Frank Hatherley’s article in Stage Whispers at
to fill in details.

Mark Kilmurry has done a brilliant job at the Ensemble, possibly, from Enoch’s comments in that article, with more economy and perhaps more clarity as a result.  This play is so good that I’d be pleased to see comments on my review from readers in Queensland and WA.

First, praise to the now septuagenarian author from this reviewer of the same generation.  This play’s message is simple, clear and bloody necessary.  It’s as up-to-date Aussie as all get out.  And that phrase obliquely introduces Carmen, dressed to more than the nines.

That’s as much as I prefer to give away, because it’s the surprises that make this play one of Williamson’s best.  If you prefer to be surprised, and so laugh even more than you expect, then read the Hatherley and other articles only after you’ve taken a trip to the Ensemble. 

Tonight, and I’m sure every night, the (I shouldn’t say it) typical North Shore audience, a large proportion of whom were also of my generation or nearly so, were literally dancing in the aisles at interval.  It’s so good to see a play with a straight-into-the-action first half.  No wasting time setting the scene – it’s life and we’re in it.

But then, almost unbelievably, the second half boosts the energy and the laughter (and the message) to the point of a metaphorical explosion.  I think the last time I laughed so much at a Williamson play  was in The Coming of Stork at the Old Tote Theatre (in about 1970, just to show how old we are) at the oyster up the nose party trick.  Just as in the Ensemble, the very close proximity of the actor to us watching intensifies our response.

I’m also sure that Managing Carmen will have the same effect on a modern young audience.  It’s Australian comedy across the ages, and I can only say I’m jealous that Williamson can produce such another brilliant gem more than 40 years after Stork.

You will have noticed that I’ve listed the team (nowadays known as ‘creatives’).  That’s because, in this case, Kilmurry’s direction, Pratt’s choreography, Butler’s design – especially the integration of video and sound – and Thatcher’s hair and make-up, with Mimmocchi’s costumes absolutely matched the brilliance of the script.  The actors – Rachel Gordon (Jessica), Glenn Hazeldine (Rohan Swift), David Hynes (Max), Morgana O’Reilly (Clara) and Leigh Scully (in the central role of AFL footballer, Brent Lyall) – enjoyed every scene as their expressive movement and voice skills were extended to the max.  The final scene brought a great burst of applause from the whole audience, everyone in the circle of the in-the-round theatre space emotionally linked in the joy of the moment.

Managing Carmen isn’t listed for Canberra next year, unless The Street Theatre could pick it up, so I have to say a trip to the Ensemble (right next to Kirribilli House) would be more than justified this summer.