Yasmina Reza’s 2006 play, God of Carnage, has been performed to critical and popular acclaim around the world, and is now produced by independent company Twisted Tree Theatre at the Tap Gallery’s Downstairs theatre.
The story of two families who arrange a meeting to discuss the appropriate action required after one child attacked the other with a stick in the park, God of Carnage – appropriately – descends into a chaotic and increasingly childish evening of name-calling, taunts, accusations, drinking and vomit. Described recently in The Age as being “like a simpler incarnation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, [the] chief joy of the play is the way it slides into an Edward Albee-style marital free-for-all, as the adults begin to act worse than the children who brought them together.” Like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Tsiolkas’ The Slap, there is something positively delicious and bordering on schadenfraude about watching two couples tear each other to pieces as they try to come to an agreement.
Played out on a simple white set with two couches, a coffee table and bookcase, with all the requisite indicators of wealth – artwork on the walls, flowers on the coffee table, coffee-table books of art on display, a drinks cabinet, cigars – as directed by Steven Hopley, Reza’s two couples start out amicably enough before they descend into a nightmarish parody of civility. Hopley’s skill, as in his previous productions, lies in his simplicity, in the clarity of his direction, in how he lets the words work their magic and lets the actors embody them. It’s hard not to see the cast’s delight in their roles, in the opportunity afforded them to let all semblances of decorum fall away and be as nasty and as deliciously horrible to each other as they can. Jacki Mison’s Veronica, an author and academic, is headstrong and quick to take the bait, and there is something of Eva Green in her physicality and performance. As Michael, her husband, Chris Miller is slightly bumbling, but there is a wonderful tension between the two of them as they slip and slide further down the slope of parents behaving badly. Hailey McQueen’s Annette is full of poise and decorum, but once the food – and rum – is brought out, then she too becomes as bad as the rest of them, and there’s something thoroughly entertaining when she declares that she likes a drink just as much as any one else, if only to see the look on her husband’s face. Yannick Lawry’s Alan, Annette’s husband, spends most of the play wedded to his mobile phone, trying to minimise the legal ramifications of an untimely new-leak, but once his phone is forcibly taken from him, well, there’s no stopping him.
Like the four lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, each of the four adults here is interchangeable with the others, regardless of age or gender, and it is part of what makes the play so entertaining, so much of a great piece of theatre, is that it could very well be us up there on stage, but (thankfully) it isn’t. Just like Martha and George in Albee’s play, Veronica and Michael are very much in charge of the whole thing, at least in the beginning, but as Alan and Annette start to hold their own against their hosts, nothing is as certain anymore. Simply staged, well-acted and well-directed, there is not much more you could want from this play. There are many lovely beats here, but the ending – when each person realises just how futile and circular their arguments are – is particularly potent. As the last play for the year – and, perhaps, forever – at the Tap Gallery, there is something apt about the choice of Reza’s play, a hymn to the god of carnage, of the disorder, chaos and acting (sometimes badly) which theatre thrives on; while the resonances with other plays do nothing to hurt Reza’s, they certainly don’t make the ‘Carnage’ any less enjoyable.
Theatre playlist: 75. End Titles, from Carnage, Alexandre Desplat