GOD OF CARNAGE Review by Pedro Ramos

**** stars

Despite the English debut being barely a decade ago, French playwright Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage is so popular and performed so regularly globally that one would be forgiven for thinking it’s been around for much longer. As with her even-more-popular comedy Art, the strength of the piece comes in Reza’s ability to bring out the messy in the mundane. There is no grandiose narrative, no incredible events – four parents have simply come together to discuss a playground altercation between their children. This focus on simplicity makes the situations and people being depicted not only relatable and recognisable, but so distinctly plausible that you can’t help but feel invested in their reality.

Powderkeg Players’ production makes the most of the material with a believable and engaging ensemble that display terrific stage chemistry. Seth Kannof plays the pent-up pessimist Michael with satisfying aplomb, perfectly keeping the lid on a clearly boiling pot without telegraphing the inevitable boilover. Melanie Rowe knows exactly where the line is with over-zealous and venomously passive-aggressive Veronica and deftly keeps her antics entertaining throughout – tricky stuff for a character that could easily be grating in lesser shoes – although is perhaps a touch over-reliant on her character’s melodramatic tendencies. Jonathan Best displays nous with his impeccable comedic delivery, and his affable likeability thankfully makes the character of Alan – an unscrupulous lawyer in the pockets of ‘Big Pharma’ – far more endearing than he has any right to be; but I still wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more of that ‘smug sliminess’ we tend to expect in such a role (and a slightly sharper American accent). Casey Victoria Bohan showed impressive range and her confident, measured, and even vicious Annette commanded audience attention and was gripping to watch.

Director, Liam Gillespie, clearly knows that ‘controlled chaos’ is the name of the game with this show, and it is evident that a lot of effort was put into keeping performances tight and efficient, with great success. As the characters unravel further and further and tensions flare higher and higher, we never feel overwhelmed or exhausted by the action on stage. Things never get too silly or over-indulgent, making sure the characters don’t become caricatures. Pacing is critical for any show, but more so for a 90-minute show with no interval and Gillespie nails it, never letting a beat drag on for longer than it needs to. This preserves the darker themes of the text without sacrificing the comedy, as the audience is given the chance to ponder as well as laugh.

The set enhances this by being simple yet meticulous, consisting of two central couches and a coffee table with smaller surrounding furniture and adornments. Nothing on stage is superfluous or purposeless, thus creating a New York apartment that showcases clearly the personalities of its inhabitants without being visually cluttered or busy. It ensures the actors have plenty of space to explore without feeling artificially spacious. All the characters were flawlessly costumed, with wonderfully complementary and distinct visual styles for each player adding just the right amount of texture to the set. Minimalist sound, steady lighting, and effective, tactile props also work to the advantage of the production, never breaking the immersion of the events transpiring on stage or requiring a lazy ‘suspension of disbelief’. As the mastermind behind almost all of these facets of the show (and more), Kadey McIntosh’s work is nothing short of exceptional.

God of Carnage is essentially a play about animalistic nihilism, where nothing really matters and yet everything matters far more than it should. If that sounds a bit like Seinfeld to you, it’s not too far off. You might get to the conclusion of this play and wonder what was the point of it all, and why did you find it so funny? At the end of the day, that’s the biggest compliment Reza’s script could receive, and Powderkeg Players has put on an excellent show that embraces that from start to finish.

The show runs until 19th October 2019 with only 3 shows remaining, and I would highly recommend making the trip to Sunshine to see it – which comes as high praise from someone who lives South of the Yarra. Powderkeg Players’ hospitality also deserves to be mentioned, as little touches like cushions on seats and a communal bar area with a custom cocktail go a long way in adding to the experience, making the venue a warm and welcoming spot.

Tickets are $25 and are available at https://powderkegplayers.com/book-tickets-now/.