“With every advance comes risk as well as benefits,” is a line delivered by Sam Dobson, playing lawyer Alain Reille. A surprisingly apt summation of Theatre Group’s second Independent show too, as putting on The God of Carnage absolutely had its risks – pulling off a big name play like Carnage with two first-time theatre directors (Hamish Patel and Anna Saracka), on a limited budget is not a challenge to be taken lightly. The question is, will the risks of this advance result in benefits?
The play takes place one afternoon in Michel (John Erskine) and Veronique Vallon’s (Ellie Pilborough) Parisian home, where Alain (Sam Dobson) and Annette Reille (Joanna Mills) have been invited to settle a dispute between their respective sons – a dispute which resulted in the loss of two of Bruno Vallon’s teeth.
Visually, the show was a triumph. The set was flawless – a set up of a middle-class family home, with stacks of art books and a centrepiece of tulips. The four actors each held their own in filling the space and there were some fantastic moments of staging, with the husbands stood behind screaming wives to show their support, and then later huddled in the corner, covertly clinking glasses of rum. It is a credit to Patel and Saracka that for any audience struggling to keep up with the fast paced arguments, it was still absolutely clear who was siding with whom purely based on where they were stood on stage – every moment of action had been rehearsed with purpose. Even when no-one on stage was speaking, there were electric moments of awkward silence that had the audience nervously giggling, waiting for the next outburst.
However, there were undeniable gaps in the impact of the performance. I couldn’t help but feel that there was an energy lacking – there were drops in the tension in some of the quieter moments, allowing the audience to relax where they should have been on edge and as desperate to escape the hostile situation between the two couples as the couples themselves were. Despite being seated on the front row of the Annex, just a few feet away from the actors, I still found the pace of the show slowed too much in places – the slower moments still needed an underlying threat of, well, ‘carnage’ that just wasn’t there.
Although the entire script is made up of snide remarks and out-and-out insults between the characters, the humour woven through it was by no means lost. Both Dobson and Erskine gave remarkable comic performances, with Dobson’s childish lawyer’s insistence that his son is a ‘savage’ being met by wave after wave of laughter from the audience. Erskine similarly gave a very entertaining performance of Michel, especially after the glasses of rum were passed around – he was also very much at home on the set and switched from placid to angry with incredible believability.
The standout performance was, however, given by Mills as Annette. Given that this was her first Theatre Group role, and it involved vomiting on stage, Mills gave a confident performance from start to finish – everything she did, physically, vocally, was perfectly calculated to create an exceptional portrayal of the repugnant Mrs Reille. The moments in which she took the centre of attention – the ‘murdering the hamster’ outburst springs to mind – were incredibly enjoyable, and her patronising attitude towards her husband, culminating in manic laughter at having dropped his phone in the vase of tulips was the highlight of the play, with Mills showing fantastic presence and a mature awareness of every aspect of her performance.
So, does Carnage have its ‘benefits’? Of course it does. This already impressively strong production is a credit to Theatre Group, and a shining example for future Independent Shows. Is it at its full potential yet? Not quite – but then, it’s only opening night. In the words of Erskine’s character Michel: “Perhaps it won’t take shape until the very end. Who knows?”
The God of Carnage is being performed at the Annex Theatre from 16th to 19th March at 7:30pm.