16 September 2009

God of Carnage

God of Carnage
Melbourne Theatre Company
15 September 2009
Playhouse, The Arts Centre


God of Carnage holds an IKEA mirror up to the MTC audience and leaves them squirming with recognition and wetting themselves with laughter – or was that just me?

St Martin’s protagonists are in their teens and 20s, Red Stitch’s in their 20s and 30s, Malthouse’s in their 30s and 40s and the Melbourne Theatre Company will always have theatre for people who are surprised when they realise how old they really are.

Two couples meet to resolve a playground incident involving their respective sons, a stick and some dental damage. Naturally, the women wear shoes that cost as much as the dentist bill in question, and espresso and clafoutis are served.

Making fun of the upper-middle class, middle age, marriage, men versus women, and what parents really think of their children is easy. God of Carnage does all of this; however, satire without recognition is as bad as making fun of a deaf kid behind her back – it’s easy, nasty and likely to lose you friends. Playwright Yasmina Reza has an international hit because she ensures that she never makes fun of ‘them’; it’s always ‘us’ and it’s always the stuff we hate to admit!

Reza is France’s best-known playwright who, like Moliere before her, uses farce to show the masks, the absurdity and the humanity of the people who love her work. Structurally it is a blue print for a perfect farce, with ever-changing allegiances, status and opinions, but it’s her grasp of character and her observation of society that is winning this work awards and fans on Broadway, the West End and state-supported theatre companies all over the place.

As it’s difficult to imagine that Reza didn’t write this on a laptop in Church Street, Brighton, much must also be said of the English translation by Christopher Hampton (whose credits include the screenplays for The Quiet American and Atonement), as well as the universality of Raza’s themes.

With a faultless cast (Pamela Rabe, Geoff Morrell, Hugo Weaving and Natasha Herbert), director Peter Evans (who also directed Moliere’s The Hypocrite for the MTC last year) ensures that we are never distanced enough to make fun of these people. It would easy to laugh at this world, but it wouldn’t hurt so much (in the good way) if we didn’t see ourselves, our friends and our families up there.

My inner voice drooled over Annette’s shoes, wondered if I could wear a fringe as well as Veronique, knew I would have taken the clafoutis out of the fridge in time and wanted to offer advice about how to remove vomit from books (I don’t want to explain). I’m far from being a Toorak ‘wealth manager’, but I knew every person, every opinion and every passive and blatant aggressive reaction on that stage.

There’s much written about God of Carnage being an astute reflection about changing attitudes towards violence in society, especially towards children (hands up who hasn’t read The Slap). Of course, there is a serious side to the work, but if that’s what you’re raving about, perhaps you need to glace at the mirror.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

Photo by Earl Carter.

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