GOD OF CARNAGE
Written by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Gale Edwards
Starring: Marcus Graham, Russel Dykstra, Sascha Horler, Helen Thompson
The stage of God of Carnage is red and white. Mostly red though. A show concerned with the nature of violence in civilised circles, it’s a rather apt colour scheme for the living room of Michael and Veronica Vallon (Russel Dykstra and Sacha Horler). They are this afternoon hosting Alan and Annette Reille (Marcus Graham and Helen Thomson) as they try to come to some agreement after one eleven year-old son bludgeoned the other with a stick in the playground. Both want reconciliation but neither want to shoulder blame or lose face. It’s a simple premise and the play starts slowly (in every sense). But shortly after, everything gets flipped and the efficacy of that is genuinely surprising. Suddenly the reserved, euphemistic behaviour of both parties begins to unravel and before you know it, they’re all behaving more childishly than the kids they came to discuss. They’re climbing on the couches, downing rum, tearing off their clothes and tearing each other to shreds.
Of course, uptight characters acting outrageously isn’t exactly a new thing, but in the context of this comedy it works very well. In a single act of one and a half hours, French dramatist Yasmina Reza (known largely for the superb ART) has done a remarkable job of ingratiating the audience with the characters and having them take sides before plunging the action into chaos, which makes the stark contrast more poignant and more pleasurable too.
The entertainment is generally light, despite Reza’s writing going to some dark places in the spectrum of humour. Director Gale Edwards is an old hand at just about every kind of theatre to be thought of, and her well-paced direction keeps the action tight. The cast of four run well with the writing too, bouncing off of one another in a way that is a lot of fun to watch. There are little annoyances in their performances which grate a little, but the largest one – accents dropping in and out – is difficult to determine whether or not it was deliberate direction. Sacha Horler’s voice, as the only NIDA-trained actor in the show, booms with the kind of forced resonance that the Institute is known for and is itself a little bit funny to hear in all of its theatrically unnatural glory. It doesn’t make the show any less watchable, but the palpable difference between the sound of herself and her peers is fascinating to observe.
There is comedy in the play that by all rights should feel low-brow, but doesn’t, and God of Carnage is all the better for it. There is a spectacular scene of projectile vomit, for instance, which with its total incongruence with everything that comes before is very very funny.
God of Carnage is the perfect picture of a genre piece done right. It’s funny throughout, highly entertaining and easy viewing, making it greatly accessible theatre for most anybody. Consider this essential viewing.
You will love it if: You’re in a mood for a cracker comedy
You will hate it if: Theatre without innovation is no theatre at all for you.
God Of Carnage is a Sydney Theatre Company production playing at the Opera House until November 21st.