Review: God of Carnage

by Jane

Well, God of Carnage:  it is nice to finally meet you in the flesh.  Your reputation precedes you.

They almost look pleasant. Set by Morag Cook. Photo by Matt Nettheim

I read a lot of reviews: because I’m just generally interested in theatre, because there are many reviewers I enjoy simply as writers (my current blog roll, right, needs to be updated to reflect all the bloggers I currently read), and because it is part of my “education”, if you will, in improving myself as a critic.  So when Yazmina Reza’s God Of Carnage has played on the West End in 2008, and on Broadway and three separate productions in Australia in 2009, I have taken in many a review.

It is an oft mentioned criticism of the script that it needs a strong cast to carry it, and this is accompanied by “so it is a good thing they found a cast so strong”, or “so the script tends to fall down when…” Since that is considered such knowledge, it is then remarkable that I never even thought, “it’s a good thing we have such a good cast”, for indeed when this cast, under Michael Hill’s direction, really bite into the heightened reality, the cracks which others mentioned failed to show.

Veronica (Caroline Mignone) and Michael Vallon (Brant Eustice) are understandably upset: their son, Bruno, has broken two teeth after being hit by Ferdinand, the son of Annette (Lizzy Falkland) and Alan Reille (Kim Gyngell), “furnished” with a stick (the term “armed” was agreed to be to harsh).   As the two couples meet for the first time to discuss how to handle the situation what starts as an (almost) amicable debate begins to escalate, until all pleasantness is dissolved and the adults, with alliances constantly realigning, revert to acting like children (with access to a healthy allotment of gin).

The script was translated by Christopher Hampton for London’s West End, and then was further adapted by Hampton for the Broadway production, transporting the action to an upper-crust neighbourhood of Brooklyn.  This production maintains the Paris setting as was seen in the West End production, yet maintains some of the line changes made for an American audience (“snitch” rather than “grass”), and curiously maintains the French surnames and names for the sons, but anglicised the first names of the parents.

Reza’s script takes a while to warm up, as you are left to wonder why the Reille’s stay for so long, but as civilities are lost the play strengthens.  As Reza, Hill, and cast fall into and embrace the utter melodrama of the script its strengths are revealed.  The absurdity of the situation, that it could reach such a point of destruction, is really fantastically funny.   No, it isn’t a deep script, but I don’t think it set out to be.

For a woman who accuses Annette of being fake, the façade presented by Veronica in her home, designed by Morag Cook, is so carefully manicured and measured it is atrocious.  Cook’s set allows the cast to play with their physicality: grabbing and leaning against the blood-red wall, lying in a ball on the white table, awkwardly perching on the wooden chair modeled on dismembered animal legs.

Lighting by Susan Grey-Gardner gradually harshens as the play progresses: a literal harsh light is shone on the actions of the characters, and the maliciousness of their actions are highlighted.

The two women share most of the physical humour of the play.  Mignone becomes hysteric: at first measured, her Veronica is the fastest to crash and burn in unbridled passion.  Falkland’s Annette manages to retain a bit more of her dignity under the face of duress (and large quantities of alcohol): where Mignone plays Veronica with a self-destructive passion, as Falkland plays the passion Annette’s strength (and claws) come out.

The men have less flashier roles, but still play them with all guns blazing.  Gynhall is adept in Alan, never far off his mobile phone (of which the annoyance in the ringing of is diluted after the call for the audience to turn off their phones is a cacophony of rings), a self-involved lawyer who can’t bring himself to be fully present in the moment.  In Michael, Eustice plays the one character who seemingly doesn’t create a pretense, the most subtle, and consequently, ultimately the most close to the bone.

If looks could kill... Kim Gynhall and Lizzy Falkland. Photo by Matt Nettheim.

Beyond the great humour in Reza’s script and Hill’s production on the stage, God of Carnage encouraged such a response from the audience!  I didn’t know the Monday night crowd could be so great: crackles of laughter, spontaneous applause, mutterings in approval and disapproval.   The whole thing was great fun to be a part of.

State Theatre Company of South Australia presents God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton.  Directed by Michael Hill, design by Morag Cook, lighting design by Susan Grey-Gardner, fight direction by Nino Pilla.   With Brant Eustice, Lizzy Falkland, Kim Gyngell, and Caroline Mignone.

At the Dunstan Playhouse until Oct 10.   Touring to the Hopgood Theatre, Norlunga (12 Oct), Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre, Mount Gambier (14 Oct), Chaffey Theatre, Renmark (Oct 16), Northern Festival Centre, Port Pirie (19 Oct), Middleback Theatre, Whyalla (21 Oct) and Nautilus Theatre, Port Lincoln (23 Oct).