Melbourne theatre-going audiences have been blessed this year with two Best Play Tony-award winners in the MTC’s main season – Tracy Lett’s August: Osage County and now Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage.
Unlike the sprawling drama of Lett’s multi-generational family drama, Reza’s work is a lean, four character piece – a tightly written eighty minutes about the tension between two couples when one’s son assaults the other. Under the pretense that they – as adults – should be able to sort out what should happen next, somewhat predictably the adults fall foul of childish name-calling – unable to approach the situation at all rationally. These parents are more messed up than their boys who will be boys.
The script lulls the audience into a false sense of security; much of the opening passages play a little too straight, perhaps a bit too mannered in order to contrast the chaos that lies ahead. What makes the play so watchable is the energy in the writing that passes so easily on to the actors.
Hugo Weaving’s Alain is fixed to his mobile phone, negotiating with a client instead of dealing with the issues in the room. Pamela Rabe’s Veronique hides behind her books and her causes, desperate to believe they can elevate themselves above the petty insults of childhood. Natasha Herbert’s Annette takes a softer approach before her insides get the better of them all. And Geoff Morrell’s Michel has a facade in a effort to get this mess behind them as quickly as possible. The actors are all in top form, with occasional moments of brilliance – often in the physical comedy which has been choreographed quite well and will probably seem smoother once the season gets going; opening night is tomorrow.
After leaving a strong impression with his work on August, set designer Dale Ferguson’s work here seems a little too high concept – one wall of the home a calendar, the date of the fateful meeting a door into the one room where the play takes place. The lighting by Matt Scott (who also worked on August) has a lot of heavy lifting to do, to indicate a passage of time and to also make this stark set feel a little bit more like home. Director Peter Evans has a light touch and allows the actors to really run with their parts, aided only by minimal props and almost seemless stage craft.
Sitting together in MTC’s 2009 season, August and Carnage are very different works but at the top of both playwright’s craft. This is a solid, if not extraordinary night at the theatre.