Thursday, 3 September 2009

God of Carnage, MTC ****1/2

By Yasmina Reza, Melbourne Theatre Company
Playhouse, Arts Centre, Sep 3 to Oct 3, 2009
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars ****1/2

French playwright, Yasmina Reza, is more famous in America and England than in France. She writes clever, contemporary, social satires. The Broadway production of God of Carnage recently won several Tony Awards whereas in Paris her plays are often dismissed as “theatre de boulevard”, a term applied to 18th century vaudeville. Bad form, Paris! Reza is a jewel.

God of Carnage is an hilarious satire riddled with belly laughs, slapstick and acerbic observations at the expense of modern parenting, marriage and the middle classes. Neat, urban order slides into chaos. Peter Evans’ production boasts an exceptional cast and superb acting. The laughs don’t stop, the direction is slick and Dale Ferguson’s set is stylish and contemporary.

Veronique (Pamela Rabe) and Michel Vallon (Geoff Morrell), parents of 11 year-old Bruno, invite to their home Alain (Hugo Weaving) and Annette Reille (Natasha Herbert), whose son, Ferdinand, struck Bruno in the mouth with a stick. What begins as an attempt at a civil discussion about the incident degenerates by increments into an uncontrollable argument.

Their negotiation deteriorates firstly into veiled criticism and sniping and, eventually, into abuse, personal attacks and even flailing fists and thrown objects. These outwardly cultivated professionals lose their civilised masks and transform into frustrated, angry children – the very thing they are there to discuss. The bad behaviour of the children emerges unedited in their parents who are now ruled by the god of carnage.

Rabe is delectable as Veronique, the controlled, morally superior, lefty, bleeding heart, whose carefully maintained respectability crumbles as she morphs into a screaming harpy. Morrell, as her salesman husband, Michel, begins as hen-pecked, repressed and obliging, later changing into a belligerent, boorish reactionary.

Weaving is suitably smug and arrogant as Alain, the self-centred, criminal lawyer who persists in taking crucial legal calls on his mobile at hilariously inappropriate moments. Herbert charts the decline of the initially timid Annette who lives in the shadow of Alain, her overbearing husband. The lubricating effect of alcohol eventually loosens her tongue. Herbert’s unexpected, explosive incident (let’s not spoil the sight gag) is one of the comic highlights.

Not only is Reza’s dialogue cunningly wrought and funny, it is delivered with impeccable timing by the entire cast who appear to be having the time of their lives. This play is a riot. Your face will ache from laughing.

By Kate Herbert

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