Written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton
Presented by the National University Theatre Society (NUTS) at the ANU Arts Centre Drama Lab 4 August 2012
Directed by Dylan Van Den Berg and Gill Lugton
Most recently brought to mainstream attention by Roman Polanski last year in his American film adaptation of the original French play, God of Carnage is a fascinating glimpse beneath “the thin veneer of civilisation”.
Michael and Veronica Novak (Sean Flynn and Hannah Wood) are a New York couple whose son has been physically assaulted by another child – the son of Annette and Alan Raleigh (Emily Clark and Patrick Hutchinson). In a gesture of goodwill, the Novak’s have invited over the Raleighs for a conciliatory discussion, so as to smooth the situation over and avoid the issue escalating.
However, it doesn’t take long for the polite facade to come crashing down, and after some provocation the couples become embroiled in a battle of morality as their true attitudes are revealed. Soon the battle spills over from parental territory into general perspectives on life and love, and it’s husband against wife, idealist versus cynic and order clashing with carnage.
Although this domestic scenario has the potential to sound quite pedestrian, God of Carnage is anything but, with this NUTS version beautifully exaggerating the mundane by highlighting the petty, absurd and profound within it with verve and an uproarious display of physical comedy.
Quite a challenging production, God of Carnage has only one main scene (bar the brief one at the beginning to set the context of the story) with the story rising in dramatic tension without the reprieve of a scene change to regroup or compose oneself. The cast did a brilliant job of maintaining focus and energy throughout the duration.
Flynn is convincing as the seemingly placid but actually rather bitter, antagonistic and somewhat whiny Michael, appearing to have a ball with this wonderfully despicable role. Wood is compelling as the uptight and eternally disappointed martyr Veronica, unleashing the monster within her with a fascinating fury.
Clark is well cast as the self-controlled Annette, providing the air of serenity and reason, and it is only when her character is called upon to let go of this control near the end of the play that Clark seems a touch out of her comfort zone. Hutchinson hams it up as the smarmy, self absorbed Alan and delivers the wit in spades, perhaps needing to convey a little more authority for this highly arrogant role.
More depth could have been added to this production if the performers had taken a little extra time to ground and assert themselves. Allowing those extra few moments of unease between their characters to permeate the scene and letting them hang heavy in the air would have really made the audience squirm and mitigated the risk of the characters becoming caricatures.
Overall, directors Dylan Van Den Berg and Gill Lugton have presented a highly sophisticated production for a university theatre group, showcasing the enormous talent and potential for all involved. This troupe has embodied their respective roles with great insight and attention to detail, making the final product not only highly entertaining but also intellectually satisfying. I can’t wait to see what NUTS has in store for Canberra next!