On the surface, Yasmina Reza’s plays are simple: they don’t rely on complicated props, costumes or storylines. The premise of ‘God of Carnage’ is just so: two sets of parents (Veronique and Michael, Annette and Alan) meet to discuss the behaviour of their children. One child, Ferdinand, has knocked out two of Bruno’s teeth. A discussion that starts out civilly, however, ends up pushing all four characters to the edge.
Reza’s stripped-back plays rely solely on the ability of actors to show the depth – or carnage – beneath the surface. The cast and crew of Alex Matraxia’s production are certainly talented, and the BT Studio saw some solid performances last night. However, while this production does most things right, it does not give the actors the scope to be daring enough, or to fully mine the emotional depths of the play.
The traverse staging and sound effects work well. The blocking, physicality and seamless transitions from aborted exits to renewed conversation are superb, and give the play a nice fluidity. The pace, however, is sometimes a bit fast. This is a play that thrives on moments of awkwardness, but uncomfortable silences appear to be largely avoided in this incarnation. Alan’s (Lee Simmonds) phone conversations, for example, are too rushed, and thus do not seem as rude and disruptive as they could. Opening night nerves may have played a role in these problems – the actors spoke too fast and projected poorly, perhaps as a result of the process of settling into the play.
Simmonds’ performance stands out. He does a great job in portraying Alan’s arrogant and self-serving characteristics with gestures, facial expressions and impressive physicality. Katie Cook’s Annette excels in the first section of the play, when her façade is still intact, but is less convincing in the final moments: the change is too abrupt. Meanwhile, Joanna Isabella is a strong Veronique– the changing emotions she experiences are acted out brilliantly. Alex McQuarrie as her husband, Michael, demonstrates good physicality but could do with displaying more vocal nuance and dexterity.
More attention to detail is needed when it comes to the props and costume. Characters’ costumes occasionally appeared at odds with their personalities, for example slick lawyer Alan’s trainers and odd socks. Annette’s vomiting is a transitional moment in the play, and while the scene was fine, the energy could have been far more explosive (it is written in the script that the vomit should splash on Alan’s suit).
In sum, the God of Carnage is a play worth seeing. The cast interact well with each other, and despite the odd pacing, last night’s opening night performance was promising. I am sure this talented cast will discover new depths to their characters and the play over the run.