Sunday, 27 March 2011

God of Carnage


Last night (Saturday 26th March) I saw the final performance of "God of Carnage" at the Gate Theatre, Dublin. The play had been running since early February and judging by the full attendance at last night's performance, the play has been warmly received by the Dublin theatre-going community.

Translated by Christopher Hampton from the French text written by Yasmin Reza, the play centres around two married couples who meet in order to discuss an altercation between their young sons. What begins as a strained exchange consisting of pleasantries and falsities quickly descends into utter chaos as issues of spousal neglect and ineffective parenting rear their heads and force these repressed suburbanites to confront their unhappiness.

This was the latest in a string of adaptations of "God of Carnage" since its Zurich premiere in December 2006. Two further productions are planned in the coming months, and Roman Polanski is currently in the process of directing a feature film adaptation for 2012 release.

Back to the Gate Theatre's production, Alan Stanford takes the reigns as director while the main cast consists of Donna Dent, Ardal O'Hanlon, Owen Roe, and Maura Tierney as Veronica Fallon, Alan Reilly, Michael Fallon, and Annette Reilly, respectively. No actor is out of place in this production and Donna Dent in particular shines as the epitome of a repressed housewife, comically clinging to her pseudo-career as a contributor to the occasional, sporadic non-fiction book on various socio-political plights in Africa. Dent's jittery, unpredictable performance won some of the biggest laughs of the evening, with Ardal O'Hanlon's nuanced performance of a narcissistic businessman coming a very close second. A performer known to British and Irish audiences for his eccentric sitcom roles, O'Hanlon seemed to revel in the opportunity to play Alan, an outwardly cynical but inwardly desolate man whose obsessive attachment to his career masks a deep-rooted unhappiness which is finally unmasked in a brilliant show of physical comedy by Maura Tierney. When her character Annette, a well-coiffed, well-dressed wealth management worker, exasperatedly throws Alan's cell phone into a vase full of water, there is an immediate change of tone in the play as each character's psychological problem of preference converges and Tierney's Annette reflects (in a beautifully written/translated/performed/directed monologue) that she is finally experiencing relief at no longer being bound by social, marital or gender pretence. She may be drunk and she may be hilariously prone to projectile vomiting, but by the play's finale she appears to have attained the greatest exorcism, or at the very least acknowledgement, of her personal strife. The same cannot be said for Dent's Veronica, whose belated realisation of the state of her marriage and her attitude toward family brings the play to a sombre, contemplative close.

This review does not intend to downplay the vast array of comedic dialogue and action to be found in "God of Carnage", but rather to magnify the gravitas which permeates each exchange. It is worth citing Roe's performance as Michael Fallon in context of this statement. As a rodent-fearing, rum-drinking middle-aged neanderthal plagued by an over-bearing mother figure, Michael's unenviable and unsolicited role as an intermediary peace-keeper is figuratively and physically ripped apart when he sheds his cardigan, unbuttons his shirt and repeatedly refills his glass while ranting about the state of affairs until Roe is left red-faced, breathless and sweating. Like every other actor in this play, Roe completely loses himself in the role and it is this that makes "God of Carnage" such an enjoyable experience for the audience. These actors sell the comedy, the drama, the slapstick and the poignancy, and one can only hope that the Gate does not wait long before reproducing this fascinating play in this gloriously intimate venue.

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