One of the world’s favourite plays of the past decade, Yasmina Reza’s pitch black comedy God of Carnage retains all of its snap, crackle and pop in this lovingly staged boutique production.
If anything, the smaller scale of the production achieves Reza’s fly on the wall intention even more successfully, the intimate auditorium making the audience feel even more connected to the stage action. Under this close scrutiny, the success of Leigh Barker’s direction becomes apparent. Every eye roll, inward sigh, furtive glance and ripple of muscular tension are clearly seen and felt. A thorough, perhaps even exhaustive, rehearsal process is evident in the layers of alternating comfort and tension between each couple, each pair able to communicate in the inherent shorthand that stems from a long term relationship.
Barker’s accomplishment with the play begins with his excellent casting, with each of the four leads highly believable in their role. There is a wonderful contrast between the frosty polish of silver fox Alan and ice queen Annette and the down to earth hominess of genial everyman Michael and homespun activist Veronica. If the ebb and flow of energy in Reza’s play is orchestrated like a symphony, Barker has been a great conductor, bringing out the extremes of brittle humour and bleak pathos while retaining a grounded truthfulness that keeps the storytelling authentic. Even as the action reaches a frenzy, there is no missing the fact that we all know people like this, and, sadly, there are times when we are these people.
A very smartly realised production for the small playing space of the Chapel off Chapel Loft, Barker and Bryce Dunn have furnished Michael and Veronica’s apartment with plenty of telling detail. The well chosen wall art suggests a bloodied map of New York. Michael Brasser’s lighting subtly suggests the passing of time as the day progresses. Brasser’s sound cues, tested to their limit by the incessant ringing of Alan’s infernal mobile phone, are faultless.
Anna Burgess goes on a wild journey as the seemingly cultured and composed Annette unwinds from serene and glossy to tipsy and slurring. Burgess’ commitment to the physical comedy of the role is unstinting; the sight of Annette tripping and scrambling in her own vomit brings audible gasps.
Allen Laverty paces Alan’s intensity effectively, starting with relatively calm conversations on the mobile and ratcheting up the volume and speed as the urgency of the situation increases. Laverty captures the smug superiority of a man doing well in his career, and also the imperviousness of a man who has no idea how irritating his attachment to his phone has become.
Amanda McKay’s English accent contrasts nicely with the three Americans, giving her self-righteous, incessant harping a brittle edge. McKay successfully conveys Veronica’s commitment to her beliefs, making her a strong focus of audience recognition and sympathy. This attachment and identification has the brilliant effect of making us bristle and cringe all the more when dog-with-a-bone Veronica continually shoots herself in the foot by taking the argument too far.
Brett Whittingham initially hints at a shifty unease below the surface of Michael before the character later snaps, understandably, and unleashes previously pent-up frustration and anger. Whittingham’s natural, unshowy performance is a significant factor in the grounded authenticity of the piece.
At a ticket price of less than $40, God of Carnage is an exceptional achievement. Audiences will find much more to enjoy here than in overblown subsidised theatre.
God of Carnage plays at Chapel off Chapel until 29 November 2014.
Photos: Leigh Barker