REVIEW / THEATRE
GOD OF CARNAGE
Dionysus Contemporary Theatre (Hong Kong)
Veteran Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong is best remembered for playing tough guys in movies, but shows himself to be a fine comedy actor in this Cantonese adaptation of French playwright Yasmina Reza's acclaimed play.
The black comedy, first staged here in 2012 by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and Atlantis Productions, is about two couples who meet to settle a playground fight between their sons but start tearing one another up verbally instead.
Cantonese feels apt for a show about people bickering, given the breakneck speed at which it is often spoken and its piquant scolding phrases such as pok gai (roughly "go hit against the street and die").
In Dionysus Contemporary Theatre's staging, the Cantonese script also references the recent controversy over the disappearance of several independent booksellers in Hong Kong when it mentions that a hamster has been "made to disappear".
Unlike his intense screen characters, Wong is relaxed here as Michael, a mild-mannered businessman who sells household wares.
He is a good foil for Louisa So's uptight and self-righteous Veronica, an art lover who is writing a book about the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
After their son gets bashed up by another boy, Michael and Veronica invite the miscreant's parents, Alan and Anna, to their home to resolve the matter.
Their talk, like the two-hour play, is set entirely in a tastefully decorated living-room. It starts off politely, but things soon get ugly.
Alan, a lawyer, annoys everyone when business calls to his phone keep interrupting the discussion. Veronica raises the tension when she insists that the other boy must voluntarily apologise.
The battlelines are initially drawn between the couples, but "war" later breaks out between the sexes, as faultlines in marriages get exposed.
Despite the static setting, the proceedings do not feel stuffy as there is a lot of physical comedy on stage, with characters jumping on couches or going for each other's necks.
Wong is a hoot as Michael, teasing his wife one minute like a playground bully and hiding his face the next, to escape her wrath.
He also plays it for laughs when his character gets tired of trying to look posh and rolls up his shirt to show off his belly like an "uncle".
Alan is played by Hong Kong theatre actor Poon Chan Leung as a smug figure in pinstripes who enjoys dispensing brutal truths.
Olivia Yan, Dionysus' co-artistic director alongside Wong the artistic director, is suitably brittle as the long-suffering Anna, who lets loose at the end.
While its satirical edge seems blunted when transplanted from a French setting to a Hong Kong one, what with Darfur now further away, this energetic adaptation makes for a great showcase of Wong's comic talents and two entertaining hours.