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God of Carnage
By Yasmina Reza
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Theatre Royal Bath
Until September 15, 2018
Reviewed by Michael Burland
In this 10th anniversary production of God of Carnage, tightly directed by Lindsay Posner, four well loved TV faces play two couples, the Raleighs and the Novaks, who are put in a tricky situation by their eleven year old sons – one, armed with a stick (or was it 'furnished'?), has hit the other in the face, knocking out two teeth.
Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey's Lady Cora) and Nigel Lindsay (Victoria and much else) are the Novaks, Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan from Sherlock) and Ralf Little (The Royle Family) the Raleighs They gather in the Novak's cream an white sitting room in a no-doubt over-gentrified area of North London to sort out the problem. Being nice modern, urban folk, they all try to reach a middle ground, with awkward smiles and pauses. Until they loosen up and the real 'them' appears.
Yasmina Reza, the author (best known for West End fixture Art) is French, and I was expecting (fearing) a po-faced existential essay on modern parental mores, leavened with smug middle class in-jokes. Thank goodness that's not what we get (despite the last sentence of the piece, the very French existentialist "What do we know?").
No, What we get is a rip-roaring, uproarious romp. Little is slightly staid as Alan Raleigh, an amoral lawyer constantly VERY important calls at highly inappropriate moments. He's faced with household goods vendor (or is he?) Michael Novak who may have murdered a hamster (or did he?) - Lindsay enjoys himself hugely and nearly steals the show as he pokes at the other's pretensions. Abbington's Annette Novak is a wealth manager who succumbs to projectile vomiting as stress levels skyrocket (watch out front row). The quartet is made up by McGovern's would-be world-saving author who first attempts to charm the opposing parents with her Clafoutis (is it a cake? is it a tart? what a first-world dilemma for a third-world-patronizing author) then tries to beat up her husband. Lady Cora would be appalled but her transformation from voice of reason to banshee raised the roof.
As the afternoon progresses and the expensive vintage rum flows the veneer of middle class civility stretches to breaking point, the complicit looks between the couples become eye-rolling condemnations, and bonds and loyalties vacillate and distort. It could have been a painful dissection of our modern lives. But it's seriously funny. A line like "The People of the Tundra needs a bit of a wipe" is worthy of Alan Bennett, and surely the cry of "F*ck the hamster!" has never raised a bigger laugh.
Take it as a savage indictment of 21st century parenting as some critics have done (Reza herself apparently regards it as a tragedy) and you'll be disappointed. God of Carnage, in Christopher Hampton's witty translation, is a modern day comedy of errors which in this production verges on farce. Sorry Yasmina, but that's no bad thing at all.