The God of Carnage: Student Theatre at its Savage Best
Sydney University’s Drama Society (SUDS) latest offering is an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage. Directors Lillian U and Victor Kalka have re-contextualized the original French text into an Australian setting, and boy oh boy nothing is lost in translation. The script absolutely sizzles. The pace is fast, the wit is sharp, the jokes are biting and every character is playing a role. There are echoes of Albee, Osborne and Pinter in the dialogue: these characters are educated, articulate and every phrase is laced with a double meaning.
The setting is perhaps a familiar one. A pair of parents meet after their children get into a fight, (one boy has hit another in the face with a stick). At first glance the couples appear to be meeting on amicable terms. They engage in a negotiation and a mutual decision is made on a course of action. However their comments gradually become increasingly bitter, resentful and ultimately childish (if not deliciously sharp and brutal to the point of hilarity). Obviously Reza reveals that the parents are in fact no better than the children, but there’s something more going on here. One parent asks the question, ‘Who makes the laws?’ The answer: ‘The ones with the most power.’ This is it, the basis of society: might is right. Adults may dress it up with etiquette, morals and pleasantries, but deep down does anyone really care about these things or is it all a façade? The childish antics of the parents would appear to say façade. Dunking a phone in water, throwing a handbag across the room, attacking one’s husband with a cushion; by the end of the play all semblance of polite society is stripped away leaving only base impulse. What does this mean? Carnage; and it is one hell of a hilarious ride.
There to take you on this ride are of course the cast. The role of Veronica Vallen is a particularly difficult role. Often, when a character has a firm moral base the actor must brace for the audience’s inevitable disliking of them. Let’s face it, we all love a morally flawed character. Yet Hal Conyngham did her homework and took to the challenge. Presented with a litany of little neuroses, Conyngham managed to satisfy the itch for a believable ‘mother’ character.
Laura Barendregt (Annette Reilley) made a wonderful fist of the internally frustrated blonde mother of Zachary (the attacker). Descending into total drunkenness, Barendregt brought comic delight and balance to the Reilley pair. Especially when she vomits all over the coffee table.
Victor Kalka played Annette’s other half, Alan Reilley, and co-directed the production. Physically he was perfect for the role – slimy, just like a lawyer ought to be (it’s a compliment we swear), but strangely and compellingly honest. This startling frankness appeared largely during his straight dialogue whilst he used a laughable and brutal element to present the comedy. There is subtle beauty to a character such as this and Kalka knew where to find it.
However, if the show was to have a standout it would have to be Jonathan Dunk (Michael Vallen). Dunk has impeccable stage craft and presents a compelling character arch for the ‘mediating jerk’ with a phobia for rodents. He knows how to play uncouth – and it’s chilling because this is someone’s father. With comic timing to boot, Dunk’s portrayal of Michael is nothing short of perfect.
All one can find to recommend for improvement is that every actor slow-down their delivery. It’s only an hour long, so they have leeway to take their time.
This is actually a clever choice of play on SUDS’s behalf. With an intimate performance space, a living room setting is perfect for the Cellar Theatre. Our duel directors have elected to present the show in the round, which is always an interesting choice – especially when a play is largely two sets of couples facing each other on couches. In theory, this kind of setting should solve the problem. And largely, it does. It is just a matter of the actors being hyper aware of where they are standing in relation to the audience.
As far as student productions go this is pretty top shelf. It’s an excellent choice of play, selected to fit the space. The script is amazing. The performances are entertaining. And the tickets are oh so cheap, especially for what you get. Well worth a trip in. And just saying, if you’re after a dinner and a show Glebe Point Road is the place to go, so many quality eateries all within walking distance of the theatre (this may just become our new home).
The God of Carnage is on for a short time, only until the 9th of February, so don’t miss out. Playing from 8 PM each night at the Cellar Theatre, Sydney University. Details can be found here: