The God Of Carnage
Sat 23rd March to Sat 30th March
What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behaviour of their children? A calm and rational debate between grown-ups about the need to teach kids how to behave properly? Or a hysterical night of name-calling, tantrums and tears before bedtime?
Boys will be boys, but the adults are usually worse - much worse.
The play is wickedly funny and the dialogue very adept at stripping away social niceties.
"Reza holds the mirror up to bourgeois hypocrisy with the savage indignation of a born satirist", Guardian.
"A triumph! Brilliantly translated by Christopher Hampton", Daily Express.
“I found myself delighted by her incisive observation, her acerbic wit, her shrewd humour .”, Times
In God of Carnage Yazmina Reza takes a scalpel to the thin veneer of civilisation evident in an expansive (and expensive) conservatory in a desirable part of west London. The resulting . . . well, carnage is not a pretty sight. There are times when it’s excruciating to watch, the embarrassment only eased by the bleak humour seeping from the sight of two affluent couples being reduced to savagery – initially at least by the issue that they have come together to resolve amicably. By the end it’s not so much couple against couple but wife against husband as relationships as well as pretensions are laid bare.
And it all started so pleasantly. Veronica and Michael Fenton have invited Alan and Annette Garrod to their house to discuss, over a decent bottle of chilled white, an attack by the Garrods’ son Ferdinand on their son Bruno. Not in the playground or down some alley, mind you, but in Richmond Park of all places.
As result, Bruno has lost two front teeth. His sister, meanwhile, has lost a hamster as a result of her father’s phobia about rodents. That revelation gives the Garrods the opportunity to move from the defensive on to the attack once the tight-jawed small talk has given way to bare-knuckle sniping.
The timing was not always perfect on Monday evening. Nonetheless, the performances were convincing enough. Jon Elves was as assured as ever as Alan Garrod, a high-flying lawyer for whom time is money. He manages to convey just the right mixture of menace, arrogance and impatience that he has been dragged into such a trivial dispute at a time when he should be en route to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Michael Fenton, played by Trev Clarke, runs an evidently successful business selling toilet fittings, among other household items, and gives the impression of a man who can’t quite understand what’s going on in his own household. He tries to over-compensate with hospitality. Once the wine and coffee have come and gone, out comes the vintage rum and, at one point, he and Garrod settle down to sort out the matter man to man with a ‘boys will be boys’ conversation on the sofa.
But as the rum goes down so the tension goes up, particularly between the women. They are determined to defend their sons with the ferocity of feral cats. Cathryn Bowler as Veronica Fenton exudes the brittle self-loathing of one if life’s liberals, overtly concerned about affairs in the Sudan while struggling to relate to those around her. Particularly her husband.
Annette Garrod, who is into ‘wealth management’, is nicely played by Annie Gay as a woman struggling to remain civil. In truth she is full of bile. She manages to throw up at one point without giving herself chance to admire the Fentons’ toilet fittings. All this darkness comes to the fore in a light and airy set, designed by Emma Withers, that makes us feel that we are in the conservatory with them.
The only trouble with Reza’s play is that it feels a bit too much like a sociological experiment, a deconstruction of the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. The characters have few redeeming features. Only those off-stage elicit any sympathy – the lisping Bruno and that ‘little savage’ Ferdinand.
I blame the parents.
Chris Arnot, March 2013