The God of Carnage – Twisted Tree Theatre and the pleasures of social decay. (Theatre Review)
The God of Carnage
Tap Gallery Downstairs
26 November to 7 December.
It has been said many times in many different ways, that what is most interesting about human beings is not what we have in common with the animals but the ways in which we are different. Yasmina Reza seems interested in this as well, because several of her plays deal with the finely woven seam between instinctual behavior and considered response as perfectly reasonable, normal scenarios can threaten to destroy long-term relationships. Whatever you many want to believe about the animal nature of human beings, plastered along side that ‘nature’ is an astounding resistance to it. Tim Minchen may croon “We’re just fucking monkeys in shoes” but as much as that is the case, the refusal of that evolutionary history is as strong as any instinct that might surface. If you doubt this, take a walk through any Westfields shopping centre and notice how many services and products are being sold on mass for no reason other than to satisfy all the ways we refuse that base history. Almost every cent we spend goes into something that determines us human rather than animal.
As it should be – what nit-wit therapist thinks we’d all be better to ‘own’ our animal nature these days? We live in the delightful tension between doing what we want and doing what we know to be good for us, because rarely do these opposing forces sit comfortably together. It is the most significant difference between us and our animal neighbours, and one to be celebrated surely, mostly because we have no choice, that is how the world is today. The wildly successful and yet oddly critically under-appreciated Yasmina Reza excels in the subtle nuances that pepper this divide, even as she likes to use the bourgeoisie, that very French identification, as the perfect vehicle for her witty narratives. In The God of Carnage we see two couples come together because their boy children had a fight that resulted in the reasonably serious injury of one. The couples, Michael and Veronica Fallon and Annette and Alan Riley are together in the Fallon’s lounge room to discuss the injury and what is to be done about it. As the discussions progress, social niceties give way baser instincts which then give way to helpless lost childishness in each of the adults. It’s all very funny, particularly given Reza has chosen to go for stereotypes of the sophisticated bourgeoisie in order to make her point. Veronica is the frustrated do-gooder feminist, married to man-above-his-station Michael who looks like he’d just rather be at a football game. Alan is the wealthy successful work addicted lawyer married to trophy wife Annette who is in ‘finance management’ – the implication being she manages her husband’s money.
As The God of Carnage progresses, each individuals facade slips away. Of particular insight is Alan, the ruthless lawyer who fancies himself at the top of the evolutionary ladder. He gives a speech part way through about his belief in the God of carnage, and yet when he loses his cell phone, becomes a blithering child who doesn’t know the first thing about survival. It’s a ruthless, funny play, darkly insightful, all its barbs velvet wrapped, though piercing none the less.
The God of Carnage was immortalised in 2011 by Roman Polanski in a film that remained true to the play, but this is theatre, and Reza’s writing is far better served in the intimacy of small live space. The Tap Gallery downstairs is such a venue, the perfect setting for such an intimate piece. I didn’t enjoy the film nearly as much as I enjoyed this version, there is something about the real life eves dropping in on these folk that brings the dialogue alive. Steve Hopley directed La Ronde in the round at Coronation Hall earlier in 2014 and again he perfectly matches space and piece with The God of Carnage. Voyeurism becomes palpable, we feel so close to these couples as they disintegrate before us. All the performances are wonderful, with each couple exhibiting the chemistry and connection that underlies a marriage, even if it is disintegrating – or perhaps momentarily stymied. Jacki Mison is annoyingly enigmatic as the lost feminist do-gooder who can’t understand why we don’t love her earnestness, even in the face of the self-righteousness she herself loathes. Chris Miller has the most difficult role to play in Michael Fallon, perhaps the least developed by Reza, but Miller emphasises the odd working class charm of the role and takes full advantage of the running hamster gag – arguably the funniest moment in the play, and his complaint that his wife dressed him up as a liberal. Hailey McQueen is a delight to watch as the contemporary flawless socialite becoming unhinged, a role that could easily be clichéd, but is fresh and delightfully nuanced in McQueens performance of Reza’s great words and finally Yannick Lawry is the perfect Alan Riley, reactionary when he imagines he’s calm, routined and domesticated when he imagines he is in control.
Stephen Hopley draws great work from his excellent cast, producing some of the best performances of the year, proving The God of Carnage as a night at the theatre is strengthened by its new-found relationship with a great film, rather than suffering from a comparison.