God Of Carnage

Posted on: 22 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Middle-class manners and marriages quickly crack in this new comedy.

Civilised human behaviour descends into a form of verbal savagery in Tasmin Resa's sharply observed new comedy God of Carnage at the Gielgud Theatre, translated by Christopher Hampton.

The story is simple: Veronique, who is writing a book about Darfur, and her husband, Michel, a toiletware salesman, summon Annette and her lawyer husband, Alain, to their home after the latter couple's son has hit the former's with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. As the evening progresses and the alcohol flows, the brittle veneer of politeness begins to crack, and the pent­up resentment is released. Sophistication rapidly turns into coarseness and strategic alliances between the sexes as the bile starts to flow.

I feel this is Resa's best play despite one or two longeurs - it has an acerbic wit and truthfulness that her most famous work Art lacked. Indeed her funny and articulate dissection of the lives of two middle-class French couples cleverly exposes the simmering hatreds, insecurities and smugness behind the coffee table talk.

"An insult is an assault," writes Resa and this play on words aptly pinpoints the discord - I stop short of describing it as 'warfare' - that ensues between all the characters.

Annette, for example, drowns her husband's mobile phone, to which he is more attached than to his wife, in a flower bowl, while Veronique rages at her husband, who describes himself as 'uncouth' and who has chucked the family's hamster in the street. For his part Michel calls marriage "the most terrible ordeal God could inflict on man," and watching the behaviour of this quartet we can well believe it.

Mare Thompson' s dancing bright red set framed by a large rectangle serves to put the situation well and truly in focus.

However it is the excellent performances by Ken Stott as the self-made Michel, Janet McTeer as his insufferably self-righteous wife, Veronique, Ralph Fiennes who exudes an insouciant, uncaring air as Alain, and Tamsin Greig as his impish, aggressive wife, Annette, that, under Matthew Warchus's expert direction, bring these individuals so vividly to life.

I was left with the feeling that Resa does not have much faith in human nature for, if we cannot solve playground rows, how can we expect to settle issues of marital breakdowns or for that matter more pressing world problems?

Plays until 14th June 2008.

Laurence Green

Booking Information

Box office: 0844 482 5130 or: www.godofcarnage.com

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