When Ferdinand Reille, aged 11, whacks Bruno Vallon in the face with a stick, he breaks two incisors. The kerfuffle in the playground forces the boys’ parents – Alain and Annette and Véronique and Michael – into the same room to discuss possible reconciliation. However, an encounter that begins with coffee and clafoutis quickly deteriorates: there’s name calling and phone dunking, marital discord and drunken fisticuffs. Instead of only two children in the argument, there are suddenly six.
The last time local audiences encountered Yasmina Reza’s work it was in ‘Art’ also staged by the Broken Leg Theatre Company. The troupe is now set to tackle another piece by the noted French playwright: ‘God of Carnage’ has had successful runs on Broadway and was made into a film by director Roman Polanski starring Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet in 2011. Some critics have loved the play, others have hated it but most acknowledge this play’s success, more than most, relies on an exceptional cast. Starring in the Sri Lankan production will be Shanaka Amarasinghe, Chamath Arambewala, Ashini Fernando and Tehani Welgama and they’ve invited Thushara Hettihamu to be a guest director.
Thushara’s last turn at the helm was as the director of Royal College’s production of ‘Othello’ and he’s enjoying the challenges directing a comedy presents. “It’s not easy as you might think to do comedy. People think it’s easy to be funny. It’s really not,” he says. “This kind of genre, the absurdity that is generated therein was something I felt this cast could really, really do justice to hence the decision to go ahead with ‘God of Carnage’.”
The production has Thushara working with actors who bring years of experience and insightful interpretations of their characters to the stage. “It’s a case of nudging them or reining them in rather than guiding them step by step,” he says. His confidence in them comes in part from long acquaintance. “The only new star I have met in that sense is Tehani,” he notes, sharing his appreciation of the “naturalness” with which she plays her part.
Having avoided watching the movie or taking tips from the Broadway production, Thushara says their interpretation is very much a product of extensive reading and discussion. Actors have used hints and references in Reza’s work to create their own backstories of marital (dis)harmony. “I have interpreted characters and the situation as the script speaks to us,” he says, adding “If you’ve watched any of the previous productions, you’ll see a lot of departures.” The script itself isn’t always straightforward. “One of the things we found quite troublesome in some aspects is Reza’s very non-linear writing,” he says. The actors have found themselves having to make leaps that ford absurd interjections and sudden departures from the natural progression of the action. “Travelling the byways she’s created in her own script has been one of the challenges.”
Famously, Reza has her audiences become witnesses to the thorough unravelling of the civilised man or woman. Here, as in ‘Art’, we watch relationships pushed to breaking point, with people gleefully abandoning decorum and rationality to embrace their most ridiculous, most uncensored selves. Comparing the two plays, Thushara says: “Carnage is a manifold intensification of that descent into absurdity and pettiness and where there were three, there are four. It’s really fun. It’s really fun to do and to work on.”
Published in the Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 27 January, 2013. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix by Indika Handuwala.