Mini-review: God of Carnage ~ theatre notes

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mini-review: God of Carnage

By popular demand (or at least, for the three people who asked): my mini review for the Australian.

God of Carnage by Yamina Reza. Melbourne Theatre Company. Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne. September 3. Until October 3.

Two middle-class couples meet to politely discuss a spat between their 10-year-old sons. Predictably, order devolves to chaos – it’s not long before they’re puking over the art books and attempting to strangle each other – but Yasmina Reza gives the clichés a contemporary spin. This flimsy expose of the pretensions of the French bourgeoisie is a one-note show, an exercise in mannered naturalism played out in real time that, for all its hysteric activity, flounders towards tedium. Director Peter Evans classes it up with a slick production that features a stylish design and some enjoyable comic performances from a stellar cast.

Feel free to engage, Geoffrey! I just couldn't get excited about this one, and although I could extend what I wrote, I really haven't an awful lot more to say.


Borbs said...

Who's Afraid of Something New? We've seen this one before, but Martha was lots more fun!

Geoffrey said...

Thanks Alison. I always find it interesting to read differing opinions. I really enjoyed "God of Carnage". Having penned the odd play or two, I was curious to see what it was that would take the theatre world by storm to the extent that this piece has. I agree with everything you say, except for your disdain for the script ... which in my mind, is always (and certainly was in this case) the permission for the extent of the performances and Peter Evans' direction of them. I loved it. It rewarded close attention and I found the intricacy of the structure just beautiful. Simple, yes ... but vastly more complex that it 'sounded'. There were so many throw-aways that were later picked up on and extended ... and the economy and cleverness of the sexual politics was so refreshing (such as when Natasha Herbert's character spat "At least he's not a little poof!" and it got a huge laugh as opposed to a nervous giggle because we're not supposed to say things like that anymore). I also thought her soliloquy when she was perched on the back of the sofa when everyone else is almost comatose with drunkeness was fantastic. I've been there ... and I felt that way through a great deal of the performance. Maybe that says more about me and my histrionic dinner party companions than it does about the this play, but I found that unlike almost everything I have seen lately, it spoke to me in a new, confident and interesting way. I sat wide-eyed and delighted throughout the entire thing.

The comparison with "Who's afraid ... ?" was something I considered when writing my own review, but I abandoned it because it's too easy and doesn't actually hold for long. Yes, there are two couples in each play who bicker, but that's about where the similarities ended for me. I felt it had more in common with "Private Lives" because there were so many little jewels of observation and discussion that gradually become something far greater than the sum of their parts. It snowballed beautifully.

Anyway ...

Ethel Malley (Miss) said...

"stylish"? HA!!
It looked like Abu Ghraib without the electrodes.

The New York production had walls with a beaten mud look to enhance the Neanderthal atmosphere. The earth tones must have been quite soothing.

The play itself I don't feel strongly enough about to fly to its defense, but I have the feeling that Reza's style just doesn't translate, and that her plays are possibly not actor proof, like Pinter (q.v.!)

But imagine these excellent performers in one of those one act Strindbergs stamped "never to be performed" by Aussie boards of management. There are so many and they're so-o-o-o-o GOOD!!

Alison Croggon said...

Thanks Geoffrey (and Anon: quite). I agree Geoffrey that the play had wit, and there places where I laughed; the projectile vomiting was spectacular. But it was so intent on illustrating its thesis - the nastiness of the middle classes, who of course will pay to go and see themselves exposed, even in such a mild fashion - that I really did get bored. And it certainly gave a certain scope for performances. I can't say I hated this - maybe if I did I would have more to say - but it did underwhelm me with indifference.

Miss Malley, you have a bigger flair than I have for exaggeration! I dips me lid. Maybe it was just the clash between Pamela Rabe's truly horrible green shirt and the red set that scorched your eyeballs. I did think that decision had quite a bit of wit, but it was perhaps of an unsubtle kind. Like you, I do love watching actors, even in plays I don't enjoy so much; but I agree, how much more wonderful it would be to see Ms Rabe in a Strindberg. I don't understand why he's not done, either.

Maude Davey said...

I too waited with bated breath for your comments Alison. I sat through this bored by the predictability, one of the few around me not chortling appreciatively. I thought the design was beautiful, costumes, lighting, scenic painting all excellent, and the performances pretty much impeccable. Fast enough, loud enough, la la la. But all so sort of self congratulatory.

The vomit though was spectacular. Then I sat up and thought I see! The preceding fifteen tedious minutes of upper middle class whinging were about setting this up and now we're going to get the Carnage! And we did - but we so didn't. I did wonder whether the words were turning to ashes in Pamela and Hugo's mouths, whether they were wondering - Is this what's come of my career? Pap masquerading as incisive commentary.

Kim said...

Hi Alison,

speaking on behalf of those of us with ADD, I want to thank you for your brief yet comprehensive review of GOC and hope it marks a new direction in your critical practice. While I’m still only half way through it I’ve put aside tomorrow afternoon where I look forward to reading the rest shoelace is undone.

Geoffrey said...

Oh dear. I loved that emerald green top and I thought Pamela Rabe looked sensational in it! I'll just have to agree to disagree about the script. Reading Maude's comment made me revisit my own experience of it ... and I really don't think it was pretending to be anything other than what it was. I do think we got "carnage" ... but like another similar fad – 'greenwashing' – I think the characters represented the silent enemies of the people: the earnest bourgeoisie who, in my neighbourhood anyway, drive themselves and only themselves into work every day up St Kilda Road and back again in the big, pumped up 4-wheel drives (or any other kind of car) while all the while, I am convinced, protesting their concerns about climate change AND the price of fuel around the dinner table.

I've never disagreed with Maude about anything ... but I thought this script, and the MTC's production of it, was stunning.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Geoffrey - you really loved that top? It was ghastly, but cleverly so - just too short, just too bright - I thought it was genius costuming!

I guess I'm saying it's an easy swipe that doesn't go much deeper than that. Albee really did do it much better, and made it tragic too (there was an attempt at tragedy there, but it didn't take). Not My Cup Of Tea, but I'm sure others will enjoy it as you did.

Glad to oblige your ADD, Kim. To explain the new short format: the Australian has expanded its coverage, which means that some reviews will now be 100 words (for the new guide). On the other hand, I get the chance to write others to 800 words - twice the length of the standard review. To be honest, I prefer both 100 words and 800 words to 400, which seems to give you space, but doesn't really, but isn't as challenging as getting everything into three sentences.

Geoffrey said...

I loved the top entirely within the context of the costume design – especially so for its pinch-pleated structure which was, as you say, just brilliant. And Pamela Rabe wore it beautifully. Rabe is an actor who works and embodies every role from the tips of her toes as you would know ... and she flounced around in it (and the slacks let's not forget) to perfection. I still laugh when I remember her emerging from catatonia with one entire side of her face covered with her hair. It was all so beautifully real for me and I loved it.

Alison Croggon said...

No argument on Rabe, Geoffrey. One of the pleasures of this production was having her back in Melbourne!

Geoffrey said...


Anonymous said...

are we really discussing (are you really discussing) this (basically) waste of time and effort.

One now knows how to make a fortune as a playwright and a theatre company
a) write something with only a few actors, b) get some big names in to do it (and because you're only paying a few of them you can afford to cough up a bit more for them, c) write some ditties, one liners and smug elitist dumb stuff that makes the rich white people laugh ('coon'), d) call it something like 'god of carnage' that is suitably horrific sounding, e) then make the adults all prance around and wait till the title is mentioned in the play, f) then we all at least 'know' what the play means, g) and we leave feeling satisfied (empty) in a 'I just watched some enjoyable theearter with my peers and we all sat in a room and laughed our little pale white arses off and aren't we all so clever' kind of way.

My God Of Carnage would take a school in Russia and the authorities would let the lot of them die (except maybe Hugo et al - as they really were the only good thing about this atrocity).

This is a good play and if that is the case I want to go sit through something that is a bad play.

Seriously, Geoffrey, whoever you are, I mean no offence, but dude, really?

And Peter Evans, did you have to do this play? or did you choose to?

And MTC, did you do this thing because it was cheap and you knew you would make a profit from it?

Because seriously, what a waste of time and effort.

PS: I also now know what the difference between MTC and Malthouse is: MTC do stuff that isn't very good in a very good way. Malthouse do stuff that is very good in a not so very good way.

Monty said...

As one of the only people in the audience who was born closer to the 21st Century then the 19th I spent most of the show wondering what all the oldies found so funny/clever about this script.

On another note I wondered about the choice to leave it set in Paris. I would have preferred them to change a few names so that it was set in Melbourne. I couldn't help but think of the characters as expats living in Paris and speaking with their broad Australian accents. Did anybody else feel like that?

Seamus said...

I found this play quite insulting. Insulting in that it is hard to see it as anything other than a calculatedly bland money-spinner, guaranteed to offend no-one, or even make them feel uncomfortable for one second. The characters were deliberately ugly, appalling people, which is fine, except that they were one dimensional caricatures, who never actually extended their neanderthal under-bellies towards anything threatening, violent or even nasty. Their commentaries, and more importantly their hypocrasies, were utterly superficial, and not bitingly satirical. This play made me think and feel nothing. It was basically slap-stick physical humour based around vomiting and falling over, and few cheap shots based around gender stereotypes. Don't get me wrong, fantastic performances and no problems with direction, set etc, but the script was just so... nothing. The MTC seem to have clearly staked their territory as middle of the middle road.

Marie said...

What a lot of angry people out there venting their spleen upon this delightful peep into middle class foibles.

I enjoyed the play immensely. I heard every word enunciated so clearly; I watched with admiration the clever moves to present the shocking vomit scene, the adept mobile phone use, the trips and falls so cleverly executed.

I thought the set was clever with the use of one day of the month as the table top, the garish red walls contrasting with the green shirt to accentuate the character's effort to present herself as well as she knew how. I noted with glee the trappings of 'success', the contrasting clothes, the coffee table books, the clatouffie, the cake slide, the demi-tasse cups. What pretensions!

I loved the way Hugo used the full stage to emphasise the importance of the phone in the dialogue. The most difficult monologue from the back of the lounge was executed with great timing and pace. The subtle changes of position of power between the characters, pair against pair, one against one, three against one were intemingled beautifully until the final scene when reality finally hits with a sad silence.

OK Maybe the 'French connection' jarred a bit. What a parochial lot we are!

Thank you "God of Carnage" and congratulations.