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 laughswhen 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 theNovaks’ living room has been perfectly furnished in typical bourgeois fashion.Apart from the simple wooden drawing table and drinking cabinet off to theside, there is a coffee table armed with art history volumes and a vase oftulips (flown straight from Holland everyday), all against a very appropriatebackdrop of pastel patterned wallpaper.
For most of the play’s first half, the collectiveeffort of all except Alan to keep a polite façade in the face of ridiculoussituations made it easy to keep the audience entertained, successfullydelivering gems such as a discussion about whether children are savages andwhether Michael (Benjamin Osugo) is a murderer for releasing his son’s hamsterinto the urban wilderness past his doorstep. The flow was perhaps slightlylulled by the long phone calls made by Alan, which, while a necessary part ofthe plot and his characterisation, seemed to require a stronger delivery to holdthe attention of the audience. Otherwise, the whole cast gave solidperformances and played off each other very well.
The complete ugly turn of everyone giving in to thebrutal honesty of their basic nature came at just the right time, as theintroduction of alcohol and a jaw-dropping vomiting spectacle from Annette(Lydia Milne) causes the characters’ composures to unravel completely at adelightfully alarming pace, best demonstrated by Veronica’s extremely liberalspraying of deodorant post-vomit incident. Hypocrisies are exposed on bothsides as it becomes apparent their marriages are less than ideal, and briefalliances form between the husbands and wives in the face of criticism fromtheir spouses, resulting in another childishly funny scene after Annettefinally dunks her husband’s phone in the vase of tulips and Michaelhalf-heartedly attempts to blow-dry it while the women drunkenly cackle in thebackground.
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, butalso coax the audience into giving proper thought to the questions proposed bythe characters. Should children be held responsible for all of their actions?Are adults any different when they handle problems with violence? Are we alljust slaves to the god of carnage? Why should we give a fuck at the end of theday? The characters don’t find any answers at the conclusion, but the playseems to answer the last one – we should all care about these questions becausethey are an examination of our humanity and by extension, society. In a timewhen world leaders and other people in positions of extreme power behave morechildishly than ever, this is a play that is sorely needed.