You Write The Reviews: God of Carnage, Gielgud Theatre, London
Tuesday 15 April 2008
On the strength of the play's title you could be forgiven for expecting a gory epic about the war in Afghanistan or Iraq. In reality, the French playwright Yasmina Reza's new drama is about a domestic kind of bloodletting: between husband and wife, man and woman.
In line with the apocalyptic title, the curtain rises on a screaming blood-red carpet and wallpaper, with the latter so crudely textured that there can be no doubt about what these gross fissures symbolise: the cracks in the relationships that are about to be played out.
Books on art are scattered on the living-room table and minimalist furniture adorned with vases of white tulips announce the owners' social class: they are bourgeois bohemians or "bobos.
The two fortysomething couples are successful professionals and the matter before them is being treated rationally and with gravitas. Bruno, Véronique and Michel's 10 year-old son, has been hit with a stick by a schoolmate, Ferdinand, in the playground, and has lost two front teeth as a result. Véronique, the pacifier, has formally drawn up a document detailing the facts of what happened for Ferdinand's parents, Alain (Ralph Fiennes) and Annette (Tamsin Greig), to sign. Their actions speak of adults acting in a grown-up way and what Reza goes on to show us is how much of an act this is.
Gradually, the façade of civility is eroded and the play exposes a deep scepticism about marital relationships, and our ability to achieve any form of solidarity between couples or the sexes.
At first these differences are trivial: there is a quibble over whether a clafoutis is a tart or a cake. But if these initial exchanges are a little laboured and slow the pace of Matthew Warchus's otherwise fine production, we are soon compensated with a series of wickedly sharp and funny set pieces.
One of these is sparked by Annette, the subjugated wife, beautifully played in a carefully judged and understated performance by Tamsin Greig. She takes revenge on her lawyer husband (a suitably self-centred and morally indifferent Ralph Fiennes) for never paying attention to her, by throwing his continually disruptive mobile phone into a vase of tulips. This is a moment of triumph and hilarity eliciting whoops and cheers from the audience.
The dead bodies on this battlefield are those of a whole social group and their apparently dearly-held beliefs. It is in that sense that this play is apocalyptic, making for an entertaining evening with a comic edge.
To 14 Jun (0844 482 5130)
Philippe Solomons. French secondary school teacher,Forest Hill, London
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