For theatre... online, non-professional, amateur
God of Carnage

God of Carnage

Michel and Véronique Vallon have invited Annette and Alain Reille to their home in an apparent attempt at reconciliation. The Reilles’ son Bruno has hit their son Ferdinand with a stick, breaking two of his teeth in the process. Should the boys settle the affair by meeting? If so, where? And will Ferdinand apologise willingly or should he be forced to? You can imagine the tensions emerging.

Actually, you can’t. I’ve not yet seen a summary of this play (premiered in 2007) which really does it justice. When you realize it’s by the author of the long-running ‘Art’, you might expect just witty posturing about modern culture and relationships. But this is really frenetic Noël Coward, drenched in expletives as strong as the rum which inebriates all the characters by the end. To add to the fun, Alain keeps having to interrupt the conversation in order to answer his mobile: as a lawyer, he is trying to defend a pharmaceutical company producing Antril, a drug now considered to have detrimental side effects. And the house phone goes on ringing as well: it’s Alain’s mother who’s in a bad way and whose doctor just happens to have prescribed her… Antril. Meanwhile, perhaps because of nerves or the clafoutis, Annette has vomited all over Véronique’s coffee-table books, ruining her Kokoschka catalogue.

This production sparkles at every level. Following the ‘lack of realism’ demanded by the original text, Bron Blake’s set is an eccentric living room with distorted windows, a slanting mantelpiece, and two pseudo-Expressionist paintings. Director Charles Douglas delicately paces the conversation with awkward, initial pauses speeding up to beautifully timed exchanges, full of ironic bile (the literal version of which is also puked up by Annette). Partly because of the writing and partly because of the acting, nobody steals the show. Witness Lydia King’s wonderfully pretentious Véronique, strutting in the most garish garb on stage, claiming a passionate interest in Africa and finally declaring this to be ‘the unhappiest day’ of her life. Or Matthew Benson’s Michel, calmly contradicting his wife, then admitting unbridled hate for his children’s hamster he has emptied onto the street, as well as for children in general.

The timing is perfect, a highlight being how Annette (Becky Hartnup) snatches Alain’s phone from him, and, after a brilliant second of hesitation, puts it into the vase of tulips. And Simon Rudkin gives a master-class on how to make out you have to leave, convince an audience you’re going to, and then stay for more verbal fire (and another glass of rum). The movement between characters is precise and loaded. And the dialogue is all so fantastically detailed, from observations on how the school curriculum needs supplementing, to male pride in being the leader of a gang. Both boys may be guilty, but are they any better than their hamster-killing, legally mendacious fathers?

My only slight reservation concerns Christopher Hampton’s translation. There’s no problem with the actors’ French accents, but since almost all the geographical references and first names have been retained, it’s a rather artificial mouthful to change pronunciation half-way through a sentence. And who will have heard of a play by Molière which is hardly mainstream in the UK? It all makes for a somewhat distanced parody of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Which means it’s a more stilted effort to transfer our view to Hampstead or Islington, which is where an English version demands to be. Think about this possibility when you go to see this show—which you must.

  • : admin
  • : 12/08/2021