GOD OF CARNAGE
Bear Pit Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Friday 6th May, 2016
One young boy has knocked out a couple of teeth of another boy. Their parents meet to discuss what is to be done. It all begins in civilised fashion: they are agreeing the wording of a definitive statement of events. Soon, however, as blame is hurled from one side to the other, the thin veneer of civilisation begins to crack and peel away.
Yasmina Reza’s black comedy of manners, played here in a sharp translation by Christopher Hampton, makes acute observations about the human condition – the middle-class human, that is. One of the fathers, Michael, has tipped the family hamster out onto the road. It’s not a wild animal or a domesticated animal, he observes. This incident is a metaphor for the entire piece. Out of their cages of etiquette and civility, the characters flounder. They turn on each other but their attacks are as effectual as an assault by hamster – I imagine; I’ve never crossed one’s path. There is always something enjoyable about seeing people behaving badly, in ways we would never dare to in our real lives.
As Michael, Roger Ganner brings Black Country bathos, forever undermining the pretensions of his wife Veronica (Penny Sandle-Keynes) whose African masks and artefacts adorn the set – clues to the primitive tribalism we are about to witness. This powwow of chieftains is not going to be fruitful. Tony Homer’s Alan, apparently surgically welded to his mobile phone, emits waves of cynicism effortlessly, while his brittle wife Annette (Ruth Linnett) does a marvellous turn in falling ill and getting pissed. In short, this quartet delivers an excellent performance of well-defined characters, whose excesses are within keeping of their established tropes, and the contrasting moments of action are adeptly orchestrated by director Colin Lewis Edwards, staging a mini-Lord of the Flies meltdown in Bel Derrington’s detailed but not cluttered set.
We only care about ourselves, opines Alan – between phone calls. Reza holds up this attitude to ridicule. If we only care about ourselves, we are no better than selfish, squabbling children. Like the unfortunate hamster, we need our cages for our own protection, whether those cages are good manners, convention, or indeed technology like Alan’s ever-ringing mobile.
A bleak view of society but a darkly entertaining and thought-provoking piece of theatre, tightly played by an excellent cast. I enjoyed every wince-inducing minute.