In a co production between Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company, God of Carnage opened last night with the promise of a great night. Ultimately though, this performance of the Olivier Award winning play by Yasmina Reza and directed by Michael Gow (Artistic Director of QTC) fell somewhat short of the mark. Whilst the performance was at times very funny it fell down in timing and consistency.
Designed by Robert Kemp the set was outstanding. A small, simply furnished living room area, with walkways to doors either side of the stage, sat floating in a sea of full, black garbage bags. It was a highly effective visual portrayal of the verbal garbage spewed on stage by the characters.
God of Carnage begins innocently enough. Two sets of parents meet to resolve a fight between their two 11 yr old sons that resulted in a bruised face and two damaged teeth. What begins as a civilised conversation over coffee and cake quickly moves into fast and furious insult trading, drinking and barbed comments between all four parents. Indeed, the story descends into a school yard fight – best friends one moment, yelling at each other the next before rapidly becoming friends again.
Like Reza's other plays (her most famous is the multi-award winning Art) the English translation comes courtesy of Christopher Hampton and tackles the big subjects with sharp wit. Parenting and children are obviously key themes throughout the play, but Reza manages to get digs in about lawyers, the wealthy, politics, food and a raft of other topics. It is evident early on that this is not going to be a “happy” play, regardless of the humour involved.
Andrew Buchanan and Jodie Buzza play Alain and Annette Reille, one of the couples. As Alain, the lawyer trying to mitigate a potential media blow-up for a company, Buchanan portrays the arrogant, self insulated man with assured confidence. His sulking manner after his blackberry is destroyed is almost touching in its inanity (“men and their gadgets” scoff the wives).
Buzza was comical, but I found her to be the least consistent performer, excelling in some scenes and fading into the background in others. Admittedly, her character also seems the most inconsistent, but I felt she lacked definition and depth to Annette. Veronica Neave as the opposing mother (Veronique Vallon) portrayed her character with aplomb, and successfully pulled off Veronique’s descent into drunkenness with ease.
Perth local Benj D’Addario as Michel Vallon provided both the funniest one-liners and visual gags (literally). His chameleon talent served him well as his character went from a sweet talking, ready to mediate business man to a vicious, opinionated “Neanderthal”.
There is a distinct lack of resolution at the end of the play, and one can imagine it going on for ever if needed. The unfortunate lack of volume from the performers did mean that I and others around me (judging by the conversation) missed the last two lines of the play, which further impacted the inconclusive ending. Whilst I don’t think any play needs to resolve its plot, I felt this production stopped mid sentence.
God of Carnage also lacks relevance to an Australian audience, as the references used are still Paris based. Reza has mentioned in interviews having to re-set the play for an American audience, and given the lack of accents or anything else remotely French, I question the decision to not update to an Australian audience.
However, the key problem with this production is the pace. It needs to be faster, snappier and consistent throughout. Whilst I doubt anyone would leave hating the show (I’m sure most people will really enjoy it), I felt this production of God of Carnage showed promise but didn’t quite deliver.
Black Swan State Theatre Company and Queensland Theatre Company present
God of Carnage
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Director: Michael Gow
Venue: Playhouse Theatre | 3 Pier Street, Perth
Dates: 13 – 28 June 2009
Tickets: Standard $48, Concession $40, Groups 8+ $38 (plus 1 free ticket for every 10 tickets purchased), Previews $38, Students $20
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing (08) 9484 1133 www.bocsticketing.com.au