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'Carnage' in the city

December 06, 2012

(L-R) Faraz Lodhi, Momin Zafar, Sanam Saeed and Nida Butt.—Photos by Mehar Khurhseed/

Despite having been released in 2006 in French and having been adapted innumerable times, the layman knew of Carnage because of the high profile Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet film released in 2011 by the same name. Being a critically acclaimed play and with the reputation preceding Nida Butt, Carnage’s adaptation in Karachi was eagerly awaited as well.

Arriving early, my first reaction was giving credit to the evolution of marketing in Pakistan, which as the director explained in the end, is necessary as ‘the government does not fund the performing arts’. Granted. However the atmosphere felt a little circus-esque.

As the narrative goes, the parents of two children are part of an arranged meeting as their unruly offspring have been a part of a physical squabble in a playground escapade. Therefore, as is customary in polite society, parenting skills and capabilities must be called into question. After all, such savage behaviour can not simply be brushed under the rug. One child has knocked out the front two teeth of another and now the parents of the ‘victim’, Michael and Veronica (Faraz Lodhi and Sanam Saeed respectively) feel that the ‘executioner’ should be brought to justice. The other set of parents, defending the accused, are Alan and Annette (Momin Zafar and Nida Butt).

Sanam Saeed and Faraz Lodhi.—Mehar Khursheed/
Sanam Saeed and Faraz Lodhi.

What starts out promisingly enough with awkward introductions and cautious small talk ends in petty name-calling and juvenile tantrums and accusations. The theme is old enough – but evidently not worn out as yet – about the duality of man. The Other side of civilized society, the magic of which has been explored countless times from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to The Picture of Dorian Gray to Hamlet. This is spelled out in the play for us by showing how all the characters involved are putting on a ‘front.’ Even the overly pedantic and tedious Veronica, only cares because this is something she can righteously be overly pedantic and tedious about.

As far as this adaptation goes, it left far too much to be desired. The idea, ideally, is to show the slow descent into chaos. Not the cliff dive into the deep end of all that’s hysterical. Butt is mostly screeching throughout the majority of the play. Either that or she is relying on bowel movements and projectile vomiting to uphold the promise that we were witnessing a ‘comedy.’ I suppose one can also blame the audience for humouring slapstick comedy and giggling like pre-schoolers at the mention of any word that essentially one should have been exposed to at pre-school. Later our attachment to crude and obvious humour was praised for being ‘intelligent.’

Nida Butt and Sanam Saeed.—Mehar Khursheed/
Nida Butt and Sanam Saeed.

Zafar in this production seemed like an extension of the role of Gabriel that he played in Pillowman in September this year. Lodhi should have picked which adaptation to follow because his accent was all over the place going from Latin-American, to Italian-American, to Boston twang. The play didn’t seem to cover the usual journey from A to B. There was no gradual process in which we see the masks fall off to reveal the savage that man really is. Everyone just stayed loud and disappointing.

Two things, however, that were commendable in Butts adaptation of Gods of Carnage was the set (donated to them by Habitt) and the sound. All this said and done, Butt has a long line of productions that have been above and beyond par and have set the standard for theatre in this city, so one glitch can perhaps be overlooked.