Miriam Margolyes (who has previously appeared in Melbourne Theatre Company productions of Realism and Blithe Spirit) is pure dynamite as she takes centre stage and holds court for a breathtaking 90 minutes of theatrical genius.
Margolyes plays aging Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. It is 1981 and she’s preparing for a dinner party involving a veritable who’s-who of the entertainment world. She is also anxiously awaiting a phone call from diva Barbra Streisand, who – through an intermediary – has just dumped Mengers as her representative.
A formidable, chain-smoking, hard drinking presence, Mengers has a huge A-list of stars in her safekeeping – Hackman, Dunaway, Cher, just to drop a few names. Yet more names will be dropped, secrets divulged and dirt dished in this wickedly witty foray into the haves and have nots in the most glamorous and fickle industry of all. Mengers explains how she went from a plain, plump nobody to a film industry powerbroker and with it came all the trappings.
She presents her golden rules of the game – what to do, what to say and how to say it, for fear that her prestigious clients can’t handle the truth and how to keep their healthy egos intact. All this takes place as she is perched on her sizeable couch in her opulent home. She even plucks a couple of unwitting people from the audience to aid her cause.
In 2008, American playwright John Logan was at a dinner party with the real Sue Mengers. He was there as the writer of the film version of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and the least famous person at the table. So Mengers paid him no attention, but he was fascinated with her. At the end of the meal, already having a lit cigarette in one hand, Mengers lit up a joint in the other. She was, by then, in her mid 70s and to Logan that was an inescapable image. Before the end of the night, he plucked up the courage to ask her what had changed most about Hollywood since her day. Without hesitation she said, “Honey, we used to have fun.
After Mengers died in 2011, Logan discussed a possible one person play about her with the editor of Vanity Fair and one of her closest friends. He was put in touch with many of Mengers’ former clients, colleagues and friends. Everyone had great stories. The impression one gains from this seriously funny and engaging work is that Mengers was a “one off” – loudmouthed and opinionated, to be sure, but also sympathetic and empathetic, if need be.
It’s damn hard to hold an audience’s attention by yourself for 10 minutes let alone an hour and a half, but Margolyes’ majesty with Logan’s language and Dean Bryant’s direction can’t and shouldn’t be underestimated. She plays the character as if she was a Stradivarius, making each note count. The rousing reception she received when she finally exited the stage said it all. I’ll Eat You Last is playing at the Fairfax Studio at the Victorian Arts Centre until 20th December and scores an 8½ to 9 out of 10.
Posted : 15th November 2014