God of Carnage

Yasmina Reza translated by Christopher Hampton
Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

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Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil, Ariyon Bakare and Freema Agyeman in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Dinita Gohil, Freema Agyeman, Ariyon Bakare and Martin Hutson in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil, Freema Agyeman and Ariyon Bakare in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Freema Agyeman, Ariyon Bakare and Martin Hutson in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Ariyon Bakare, Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil and Freema Agyeman in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Dinita Gohil and Freema Agyeman in God of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard
Martin Hutson and Ariyon Bakare in God Of Carnage Credit: The Other Richard

A brilliant revival by director Nicholai La Barrie—with a pertinent slow revolve set and design by Lily Arnold—milks God of Carnage more for comedy than tragedy though the play itself walks a fine Beckettian line. The press night audience take it for a sitcom slapstick farce, if my laughter monitor is correct. How you see it will depend on whether you are a Stanislavsky or a Chekhov? Or a Woody Allen?

Many of you will know God of Carnage from its original 2008 London stage production with Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott or the 2011 Roman Polanski film Carnage which starred Christoph Waltz, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C Reilly. Well, for my money Ariyon Bakare (Alan), Dinita Gohil (Annette), Freema Agyeman (Veronica) and Martin Hutson (Michael) outshine them all.

It’s all about language, ways of seeing, interpretation, the splitting of hairs, double standards, the masculine versus the feminine, couple dynamics, the difficulty of maintaining the polite veneer of civilised society before it slips—isn’t this how wars start? And slowly, ever so slowly, the frog thrown into cool water is brought to the boil.

The imperceptible revolve (look at the images and see where that standard light is) is like a noose tightening around the self-deluded foursome, whose marriages seem to be built on hairline fractured foundations. An unravelling unfolds. The semicircle of lights behind them is another visual clue as to where things are heading.

Brought together by the misdemeanors of their eleven-year-old sons, two couples, the Novaks (Veronica and Michael) and the Raleighs (Annette and Alan), negotiate culpability and an apology in the chic Novak home. Should be simple. One child smashed the other in the face knocking two teeth out. But the victim had called him a grass, so there’s some blame there.

Surely a grown-up conversation will resolve it. But as my young son once said, adults are just big children. Out of the mouths of babes and all that—this is what Yasmina Reza exposes. And the culprit’s father is a lawyer… constantly on his accursed mobile phone re a medical drug controversy. Every time it rings, I’m sure everyone in the audience must wonder if they've turned theirs off.

Props, as in any farce, come into their own—phone, tulips, hairdryer, food, emboldening booze—in well-timed fashion. Paced like a musical score with the four characters playing in different key signatures, the play crescendos by tiny increments (the vomiting is subtly done) and surprising variations to a no holds barred Götterdämmerung. Asaf Zohar’s over-amplified soundscape finally makes sense.

Passive aggression turns to the real thing, Agyeman’s Veronica the OTT driving force. A beautiful African mask sculpture—the elephant in the room, perhaps, of patronising western condescension and hypocrisy (Veronica is ‘writing’ a book on Darfur). With her strong sense of injustice, she has the bit between her teeth and she won’t let go.

Then there’s the ejected hamster—another weapon with which to browbeat her mother’s boy bourgeois husband. Slow reveals keep on coming. Sounds enigmatic? No, just weaknesses, phobias, and the usual human fallibilities, the entrenched inability to see the other’s point of view.

Isn’t it amazing how little we know our partners after many years of conjugal familiarity: their ingrained racism, their inbred prejudices covered up by association. Michael’s speech on ten-year-old Congo boys killing hundreds, on how children consume and destroy parent’s lives is meant to be shocking, but then look at the cynical world today.

A timely production, Reza packs a mighty fist in a soft glove until the gloves come off. I wonder is vomit the salient metaphor… Ninety minutes with no interval keeps us glued to our seats on a very hot night in every sense.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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