By Evonne Baltrock
Feather Theatre Company’s adaption of the French play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, directed by Matt Wojcik and Xana Littlewood, was highly impressive for a first-night performance. Taking place in the unusual venue of Van Mildert’s Ustinov room, I was quite unsure what to expect upon sitting down.
The cast effectively carried out the roles of two mundane middle-class couples, Annette and Alan (Nicola Samosa and Nicholas Tansley), and Michael and Veroina (Joseph Battuello and Alice Lassman), distanced from each other emotionally, as much as from the audience to start off with. At first, the word ‘carnage’ in the title seemed ironic, but eventually, the plot descended into full-on fourth wall breaking comedic chaos. The audience were brought along in the emotional roller coaster of the four parents’ initially civilised discussion over the ‘gang’ fight between their 11-year old sons Benjamin and Henry, that leads up to the rather in-depth but malicious discussions between the four characters on topics such as a woman’s domestic role, the disappointment of relationships, responsible parenting, and the importance of wealth and status in life.
Considering the ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ personae that are essential to the plotline and that Reza’s 2006 play takes place in a modern-day setting, I feel that the set was a little sloppy and mundane. The furnishings and wall hangings were not particularly colour co-ordinated to the bourgeoisie tastes of such high-esteemed parents as Veronica and Michael, although the ever glamorous Mildert’s 1990s decor function room never failed in giving the comedy setting a somewhat UKTV Gold edge (though I appreciate the lack of choice for venues in Durham). I found it odd that in the brief period before the play Lassman was onstage just to walk offstage again for a few seconds before returning and finally beginning to speak and the painting on the wall did not move around as she anxiously re-adjusted it. Maybe re-arranging the flowers would have been more appropriate.
The ‘emotional cul-de-sac’ was certainly felt from the start of the play, as the well-chosen song Love and Marriage was played, foreshadowing how the relationship of the couple was to be tested. The over-awareness of the characters material surroundings was made prominent, highlighting materialism as a key theme in the play. The costumes certainly characterised the couples well when all were present, as the classic knitted-cardigan family with their artistic sensibilities took on the big-city business suited types, making it cleverly ironic when Veronica’s all-for-show plans fall apart when Annette vomits all over the living room. This was a particularly well-staged scene, with highly effective nauseated expressions, and a sense of horror spread across the room. I do however feel that Annette’s outfit should have been more age appropriate in length and transparency for the role of a parent.
The lack of eye contact at the start of the play displayed the awkward yet competitive element between the parents, as it increased as the play intensified. It certainly made us wish the encounter would end through the entire play, as when it appeared the characters found common ground and started to bond, tensions were reignited.
Tansley blocked the rest of the cast a bit during his constant phone calls, but contributed to the display of the character’s ego. The exaggerated spraying of deodorant across the room by Lassman to mask the smell of vomit demonstrated her neurotic pursuits for order in a way that engaged the audience, making this an excellent moment. There was a moment when the characters broke into song which diffused the tension before throwing us back into the drama, adding to the scatty style of the comedy. There was a brilliant slide into a drunken state, particularly by Lassman, although this could have taken place more gradually to add to the play’s realism. The audience were made to both warm to the characters and be disgusted by their immaturity. Battuello gave off the lovable husband vibe, especially with his enabling American accent, and sweet home Alabama ring tone, being both the voice of reason, as well as possessing a weak side in his fear of rodents. The confident and narcissistic physique of Tansley is to be highly commended. The red light towards the end appeared random, perhaps because of its sporadic timing, despite the quarrel taking place being key to the plotline. The chase scene music was also too slapstick for the style of play. Veronica’s phone call was a little strange in the realist setting, as she had no actual phone to hand, unlike the other characters.
The ending was a little abrupt and strange but ultimately the play effectively demonstrated the core of modern human insecurities. The play was well chosen: the actors excelled at essentially portraying Durham students as parents thirty years in the future, and I could not help but laugh out loud throughout the most of it.
Photograph: God of Carnage prod team