Donna Dent Interview
February 21, 2011
Having struck gold with the cut throat callousness of Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of de Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangerous in March last year, Michael Colgan has decided to do it all over again, this time with his translation of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage. A comedy of (no) manners, it concerns two sets of parents who meet up to discuss the events of the previous day, when one child belted the other in the face and broke his two incisors. Coffee and tarts turns to bitching and retching as the parents behavior disintegrates over one parents instance that a ‘sincere apology’ is called for while the father of the ‘savage’ child, a lawyer, insists he would never mean it. Ideologies and snobbery’s collide as facades fade and true selves are revealed. One of the shows four stars Donna Dent (the others being Owen Roe, Ardal O Hanlon and Maura Tierney aka Abby Lockheart on ER) speaks here to Caomhan Keane about the plays allure and her desire to lamp anyone who crosses her child.
The Broadway and West End versions were modified to represent their nationalities. Is this version set in Ireland?
The play write agreed that wherever it should be done, that’s where the play should be set. So if it was playing on the West End then it would be set in London and if it was to be done on Broadway then it would be set in New York. So were setting it in Dublin. So we’ve been tweaking it. Christopher Hampton was with us for the first couple of days. So we went through the script going over things that didn’t sit easily with our tongue. Although, it has to be said, it’s not meant to be a realistic piece. It’s not naturalistic. It’s what we refer to as ‘heightened realism’. So you don’t want to naturalize everything in the script.
Your character is an idealist. A liberal. She deplores violence and believes she is “standing up for civilisation.” Are you with her?
Listen, I have a son. He is a very gentle boy. And I have always told him that if anyone hits him, tells the teacher, don’t hit them back. Now, I’m’ a working class girl, raised by working class parents in working class areas. I absolutely would have hit someone back. I would have fucking clobbered them. And if I saw somebody hit my child every instinct in my body, no matter what age they are, would be to go over and lamp them. That’s my instinct. My head and heart say no but my gut is to go up to them and say “I know how to get into your house at night. I will kill your parents.” It’s instinct fighting against intellect.
I say early on there is nothing like the art of coexistence that I am standing up for civilization. While Ardal’s character says the god of carnage rules us, our instinct is to annihilate everything. And were both right. It’s an interesting argument.
In his New York Times review Ben Brantley said of this play; “On the page it doesn’t amount to much. It needs the fine-honed idiosyncrasies and unconditional commitment to unsympathetic characters that the actors here provide.” Would you concur?
I would absolutely agree. All of us, including the director, said, ‘why am I being asked to do this’ when we first read it.I don’t know why, as an actor, I was thought of. But when you start playing with it you find there is much more to it.
That’s not to say it’s not in the script, it’s just not on the page. It’s when you start playing it out that you see it. A lot of scripts are about the words. I just did Dancing at Lughnasa, a beautifully worded piece, a play you would just sit down and read. This is not a play you can just sit down and read. But that’s not because it’s not a good play and we’re fixing it by what we are doing on stage. You just have to find it in the physicality.
Yasmina Reza told the Sunday Times ” My plays have always been described as comedy but I think they’re tragedy. They are funny tragedy, but they are tragedy.”
She turned around to Christopher Hampton at the end of the London run and said, “What have you done to play” because the audience were standing up and screaming and laughing and clapping. She said, “It’s not meant to be this funny.” I think with this piece, for sure…. I mean I cry twice in it and it should look like I am genuinely upset by something. It’s not crying for a laugh. It shouldn’t be funny. The point of this piece is that they are fighting real fights. But Christopher has a knack, he is very musical, and it’s the music, in the hitting of those notes that the audience respond to. They are laughing at the musicality of it.