What happens when a discussion between two married couples about a child's knocked out teeth degenerates into irrational childish behaviour is the topic of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage.
The award winning play (originally written in French) is the next exciting show under the Next Step Productions banner and stars four exceptional actors – Anna Burgess, Amanda McKay, Allen Laverty and Brett Whittinham. The play has had an extraordinary run since it's premiere in 2006, opening in Broadway in 2009 to rave reviews as well as having been adapted into a 2011 film starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.
The draw for actors is magnetic – for it is an actor's play- but, says Anna Burgess playing the slightly reserved (well, on first impressions anyway) Annette, it is the writing that was the first attraction.
"It's a beast of a piece to get your teeth stuck into as an actor. It's right up there with Venus and Fur, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf and anything Patrick Shanley for me," says Burgess. "I seek an honesty in my own life and I enjoy the struggle of these four characters trying to work against their own truth and hold up appearances until they can no longer. The play ends and we are uncertain whether these people will remain victims of their circumstances or make the necessary change. Simple. Unresolved. So essentially a tiny snippet of life. Beautifully imperfect."
Burgess plays Annette who's husband Alan (a lawyer seemingly super glued to his mobile phone) is with her for this meeting about their son, who has injured another child on the playground. "There is immense tension between the two as they struggle in a passive aggressive like manner with his busy work schedule and their somewhat lack of interest in their family structure which is falling apart, Burgess explains." All is not lost, there is a base of love between the two but they are right in the thick of it."
Reza is fantastic at examining the beast in us all and as the four begin to behave badly, Reza takes the opportunity to explore the loaded topics of misogyny, racial prejudice and homophobia. Burgess reveals the piece challenges her personally because the script often triggers some of her insecurities of being misunderstood and judged. "I do find it difficult to sit back and let Annette drive herself into this somewhat pretentious state. Like any living being we are not necessarily what we say and certainly not how we appear. But again that's what makes this piece such a joy. The masks come off and we are enabled through brisk dialogue to become our own ugly truths."
Burgess has been touring the country for the last three months with the British comedy The 39 Steps for Hit Productions so, she admits, it has been a slight challenge for her getting the show and character in her body. The solution has been in setting her days up so that she can embody each fairly so that neither lacks the energy that it deserves while loving the complete juxtaposition of the pieces.
A fairly simplistic set-up on the surface, Reza makes no excuses with her trademark quick fire dialogue and acerbic wit which keeps both actors and audiences balancing between the real and sometimes surreal. Her other well known piece is the play Art which explores similar themes but this time between 3 male friends and a work of art – or is it?
Written in Reza's native French, the work, says Burgess, does not lose anything in translation, remaining relevant. "Again it comes back to the writing. It has a universal truth."
Burgess observes that the play shines a harsh light on us as human beings. How we create these little lives of ours to protect ourselves. "The truth shall set us free, but the truth will be the undoing and this play takes four adults throws them in a room, forces their hand and the carnage begins," she says. "It's the worst day of their lives but hopefully the beginning of a new way of looking at their own behaviour so that they can make that change. Hopefully?! Ha!"
Burgess' hope is that the audience enjoy this crazy angst driven, funny little brutally honest ride.
"We're opening ourselves up for the slaughter as characters and I think audiences will embrace the honesty and walk away with their loved ones and say 'that'll never be us!!' Come and see just a downright good piece of theatre with solid and fearless actors who's purpose is to tell the truth, to be heard and understood without a sense of anyone's personal ego getting in the way of the story."
November 19 – 29