Meet Sue Mengers, super agent to the stars. The woman who represented Barbra Streisand and Gene Hackman, Michael Caine and Cybill Shepherd, Brian de Palma and Gore Vidal – who climbed into the engine room of the dream factory and became, for a time, one of Hollywood's most influential kingmakers.
I'll Eat You Last resurrects this larger than life figure in a one-woman show. On Broadway, the role was played by Bette Midler, and we're lucky to have as formidable a character actor as Miriam Margolyes for the Australian premiere.
Mengers herself is a fascinating woman. A blonde German Jew who arrived in New York just before the outbreak of World War II, she looked doomed to be an outsider but tamed her accent and developed the skill set for a successful talent agent (which is, in fact, remarkably close to that of an actor) – dissimulation, charisma, ruthless ambition and a gift for schmoozing.
Discarding her dreams of acting early on, Mengers landed a job as a secretary in a talent agency. Her hugely extroverted personality, persuasive powers, and sheer chutzpah were never going to be held down by that and pretty soon she was an agent herself – a crucial supporting player in a male-dominated industry.
We meet Mengers holding court, ensconced in a couch in her Bel Air mansion. Her meteoric rise to No. 1 Agent in Hollywood is beginning its downward spiral (she's just been fired by Streisand and is expecting a call from Babs herself), but she's still gearing up for one of her legendary all-star parties.
She lolls. She chain-smokes. Drinks hard liquor. Smokes a few joints. And Mengers does what she does best: she talks Hollywood.
Margolyes gives a delightful, laugh out loud funny comic performance, a technically brilliant tour de force.
Her Mengers swears like a sailor and gossips like a courtier. She swings between self-aggrandisement and self-pity, and is relentlessly witty and louche on celebrity culture, its bright lights as well as the darker parts of the solar system that orbits it. Margolyes' accent is pitch-perfect, her incarnation of this dissolute lounge lizard (she even flicks her tongue out at the mention of Warren Beatty) is gritty, self-deprecating and shot through with unexpected poignancy – mostly due to the merciless and clear-eyed assessment of the cruel realities behind all the big dreams.
Dean Bryant directs the show so it never feels static, despite our hostess's commitment to her sofa, and the set is pointlessly, vastly opulent – as huge as the personality on display. It's a production that could happily grace the stage of any city in the world, and is likely to be the most enjoyable and entertaining night at the theatre you'll have this year.
Posted : 7th November 2014