Culture Editor Yu Ching Yau reviews Mermaids’ production of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage as part of On The Rocks.
Having first acquainted myself with this story through the film adaptation years ago, I was eagerly anticipating the same fast-paced, sharp wit from this production of God of Carnage directed by Emma Gylling Mortensen, and I was not disappointed. The play, originally written by Yasmina Reza, opens with a meeting of the Novak and Raleigh couples as they write up a legal statement addressing a playground incident between their sons Henry and Benjamin, where the latter hit the former with a stick after a verbal altercation. This simple premise proves to be a solid foundation for comedy gold as the parents pick apart the nuances of the situation, hilariously turning the incident into a huge morality and philosophy debate, all the while trying to keep it together as civilised adults – but what does that even mean?
The play wastes no time in getting the first laughs when Alan (Guy Harvey) opposes the wording in the statement of his son being “armed with a stick”, resulting in Veronica (Sarah Chamberlain) suggesting “furnished” as a compromise. Indeed, there is no word more fitting as the Novaks’ living room has been perfectly furnished in typical bourgeois fashion. Apart from the simple wooden drawing table and drinking cabinet off to the side, there is a coffee table armed with art history volumes and a vase of tulips (flown straight from Holland everyday), all against a very appropriate backdrop of pastel patterned wallpaper.
For most of the play’s first half, the collective effort of all except Alan to keep a polite façade in the face of ridiculous situations made it easy to keep the audience entertained, successfully delivering gems such as a discussion about whether children are savages and whether Michael (Benjamin Osugo) is a murderer for releasing his son’s hamster into the urban wilderness past his doorstep. The flow was perhaps slightly lulled by the long phone calls made by Alan, which, while a necessary part of the plot and his characterisation, seemed to require a stronger delivery to hold the attention of the audience. Otherwise, the whole cast gave solid performances and played off each other very well.
The complete ugly turn of everyone giving in to the brutal honesty of their basic nature came at just the right time, as the introduction of alcohol and a jaw-dropping vomiting spectacle from Annette (Lydia Milne) causes the characters’ composures to unravel completely at a delightfully alarming pace, best demonstrated by Veronica’s extremely liberal spraying of deodorant post-vomit incident. Hypocrisies are exposed on both sides as it becomes apparent their marriages are less than ideal, and brief alliances form between the husbands and wives in the face of criticism from their spouses, resulting in another childishly funny scene after Annette finally dunks her husband’s phone in the vase of tulips and Michael half-heartedly attempts to blow-dry it while the women drunkenly cackle in the background.
This production of God of Carnage clearly achieved the goal of the original play, which is to not only entertain by making adults enact playground drama, but also coax the audience into giving proper thought to the questions proposed by the characters. Should children be held responsible for all of their actions? Are adults any different when they handle problems with violence? Are we all just slaves to the god of carnage? Why should we give a fuck at the end of the day? The characters don’t find any answers at the conclusion, but the play seems to answer the last one – we should all care about these questions because they are an examination of our humanity and by extension, society. In a time when world leaders and other people in positions of extreme power behave more childishly than ever, this is a play that is sorely needed.