Benj D'Addario, Veronica Neave, Jodie Buzza and Andrew Buchanan. Photo - Stephen Henry
There's a scene in God of Carnage, Queensland Theatre Company's take on the fêted translation of French playwright Yasmina Reza's farce, where one of the four characters vomits on stage. Visibly that is, convulsing a chunky, semi-digested cocktail all over the coffee table and the carefully arranged art books in the starkly neat lounge room where the drama unfolds. It's shockingly funny, in the grossest traditions of gross-out comedy.
Indeed, slapstick draws the biggest laughs in a clever Wildesque comedy of manners. But the really surprising thing about Reza's awarded script is how little wit is contained in it. Has something been lost in translation?
This work - an Olivier Award winner as best new comedy in London earlier this year - has attracted some very fine talent: Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden was recently nominated for a Tony Award in the United States along with co-star Hope Davis for the New York production, while Pamela Rabe and Hugo Weaving will take on roles in a Melbourne Theatre Company production from August.
There is certainly plenty to be attracted to in the work as an actor; a rapid-fire four-hander that has the cast balancing a drunken descent into incivility while maintaining a firm grip on the ubiquitous reality that makes it work as satire. This cast of Andrew Buchanan, Jodie Buzza, Benj D'Addario and Veronica Neave does that, falling about with elasticity also demanded of their tongues to spit out each retort.
The premise, too, promises much. Two desperately married upper-class couples are brought together to settle a fight between their respective boys. Michael and Veronique Vallon (D'Addario and Neave) host Alain and Annette Reille (Buchanan and Buzza) to draw up a settlement for the injury the Reille boy inflicted on their son. There was name calling, the boy was hit with a stick and dental work is required.
The meeting starts civilly enough: chatty small talk, tea and an apple and pear clafoutis. But it quickly descends into recrimination. Fuelled by alcohol, this is what happens when snotty rich people go bad. Reza burns through the thin veil of civility in society, exposing the raw carnage deep in us all.
While the play remains set in high-society France, this could be a middle/upper-class lounge room anywhere in the world. Director Michael Gow and designer Robert Kemp perch the room above an exposed sea of black rubbish bags - the character of Annette storms out declaring "this place is a dump". Everyone's garbage, we're reminded, is buried not that far below the polished floor boards.
Reza's script is caustic enough, with the targets all hit. But the actors have to work too hard to mine comedy from the situation, from one of the great contemporary writers of the stage. It needed the laugh-out-loud funny, and it just wasn't there.
Perhaps we can blame the translation. But as entertaining as this play is, as sharp as its teeth are, it somehow falls short of being a great piece of contemporary fiction.
Queensland Theatre Company
God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
Director Michael Gow
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Dates: 4 May – 6 June 2009
Tickets: $38 - $58, Under 30: $30
Running Time: 1 hours 40 minutes