September 22, 2010

God of Carnage

Filed under: 2010,Archive

September 21, 2010

God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
September 21. Tickets  $ 29 – 59. Bookings : BASS 131 246
Until October 10.  South Australian Regional Tour: October 12 -23.

The  film-maker Luis Bunuel memorably satirised the discreet charm of the bourgeoise and, this century, French playwright Yasmina Reza has found considerable success in showing audiences that the middle classes are neither discreet nor charming. In Art she showed us male friends falling out when one buys a vacuously minimalist painting, and in Life X 3, she explored the lethal cruelty that is the pecking order of academic science.

In 2006’s God of Carnage, two couples meet to discuss a school incident concerning their eleven year olds. Ferdinand has clobbered Bruno with a stick, breaking two of his teeth. The matter needs to be dealt with :  remorse expressed, perhaps reparations offered. Most importantly, ethical lessons must be learned.

Reza is expert on the micro-manners of the upwardly mobile – even if her specifically Parisian version is sometimes oddly mutated in Christopher Hampton’s English translations. She uses elaborate courtesy as a shield for both social anxiety and gambits for advantage. This is not new in comic theatre, but Reza is well-named – the perceptions are twin-blade sharp.

Parents of Ferdinand, lawyer Alan and “wealth manager” Annette (Kim Gyngell and Lizzy Falkland) are the initial penitents – but Alan’s litigious mindset is soon revealed in a farcically repeated series of mobile phone calls as, amidst the discussion, he wrangles a major pharmaceutical product crisis. Veronica and Michael (Caroline Mignone and Brant Eustice) intend to be conciliatory, but Veronica, author of a book on Darfur and idealistic about notions of moral improvement, becomes increasingly vengeful. Sure enough, after fifty minutes of conversational parry and thrust (and some rapid shots of first-rate rum) the negotiations comically and revealingly implode.

With a neatly symmetrical apartment décor by Morag Cook, State Theatre director, Michael Hill’s likeable (and, I suspect, still improving) production develops from a muted beginning to the right amount of revs by the time the slapstick begins. Caroline Mignone is divertingly zany as Veronica, Lizzy Falkland is astute as Annette, and Kim Gyngell is excellent as the cynical Alan. As Michael, the capable Brant Eustice has less success with an oddly delineated character.

God of Carnage is over-named and over-ambitious. It is not really about the intrinsic violence of the species – like other Yasmina Reza plays, it is about less than it seems. But in years to come, these works will make interesting reading as a commentary on the times. Their subject is the high price of corporate obedience and its effect on intimacy and self-worth. These apparently airy comedies are less about lives of quiet desperation and more about barely suppressed rage.

Murray Bramwell

The Australian, September 22, 2010.

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