God of Carnage, a play by Yasmin Reza, and directed as one of this year’s Freshers Plays by Mandarr Brandi, at times peeled back the skin of our notions of refinement and culture to expose the layers of anger and resentment beneath.
The play itself centers upon the aftermath of a schoolyard fight between two children, where the parents of each participant have met to agree upon how the matter should be resolved. These two couples are, at first, shown to be near polar opposites in their professions and world-view. The Raleighs are a pair of cool, well dressed executives: Alice Raleigh, a high paid lawyer; her wife, Annette, is involved in “wealth management.” The Novaks are concerned with what Michelle Novak calls an “honest” life – when compared to that of the Raleighs. Michelle owns a home wares store, and Veronica is a writer interested in art history and African politics. As the play progresses, the two couples provoke one another into shucking their social niceties and revealing their most basic emotions, discovering many similarities as they do.
From a directorial standpoint, Brandi’s choice of an entirely female cast is questionable in a play that seems bound to the dynamic between men and women. Changing a character’s gender should always be approached with care. Having both the Raleighs and Novaks as same-sex couples seemed to be a laborious way of bringing questions of sexuality into the play’s subtext. Subtext that, for the most part, seemed not to exist. Lines such as a “I’ve got a John Wayne idea of manhood” (the line being changed to an “idea of sexuality”), undermined the integrity of the gender switching. It felt to be an easy step made by the director to further radicalize the play. However, more women participate in the Freshers Plays each year than men and this decision may have been made out of necessity rather than artistic design.
In contrast, though, the action of the play was handled well. The tension between the Raleighs and the Novaks was expressed with admirable tenacity by each actor at different points of the performance. However, as the characters fell into spouts of drunken rage the acting lapsed into melodrama on occasions, and I was left unconvinced. It was as individuals that each cast member was able to display their full talents. Of particular note were Eveliina Kuitunen, with her sharp delivery and shifts between her roles as family member and corporate lawyer, and Catriona Scott, with her spiraling descent into some kind of middle-class furor. Both performances by Sarah Wright and Caitlyn Ramsey were sporadic in their conviction. Sarah was best when embellishing her character’s growing disdain for her partner, and Caitlyn in the delivery of her more comic lines.
Set and costume design were executed with considerable simplicity and taste. From the first glimpse of the characters and set, the carefully chosen palette of earthy browns, black, and, most importantly, the deep red warned the audience of what was to come. Similarly so, the opening music of the performance – reminiscent of a marching roll, or a manic assault upon a typewriter – and use of red lighting alluded to the tension felt by all the characters from the beginning.
In its entirety, the play was a mostly enjoyable piece of theatre. Whether this was done through delivery or bouts of fake vomit (probably the most shocking front row experience of my life), I found myself entertained. Questions regarding directorial intent aside, Brandi brought a strong performance to the stage with the help of cast and crew. If you did not see God of Carnage, and have missed out on this year’s Freshers Plays, I would strongly recommend you give your support by attending next time.
Image by Adelaide Waldrop