YASMINA Reza doesn’t like her plays being called comedies – she thinks they are tragedies. But she does accept that they are funny. God of Carnage is both. It is very, very funny. It is also very sad.
Lindsay Posner’s brilliantly directed Bath Theatre Royal production captures both aspects. We laugh loudly and frequently at the ridiculous behaviour of the two wealthy couples gathered to discuss the playground fight between their sons.
Posner absolutely nails the tragedy (although if we are being pedantic it is pathos, because these characters do not at any point rise to the status of heroic!) We leave the theatre knowing that there is no hope for the two boy because their parents’ behaviour is worse than theirs. We suspect that the couples will continue, sniping and bitching and priding themselves on their success and their sophistication. It is not funny any more. It’s sad. Indeed, it is pathetic.
Reza is sometimes compared to the great French playwright Moliere and it’s easy to see why – both puncture the pomposity of vulgar, pretentious social climbers. But whereas Moliere generally gives his “good’ characters a hopeful ending, Reza offers nothing but more of the same. She unpicks her characters like a cook unwrapping the layers of an onion. The result is an excoriating portrait of bourgeois lives so cocooned in self-satisfaction and self-justification that they are blind to the impact of their actions. They make a lot of noise but they don’t listen.
This production, first performed at Bath in September 2018, returns with two of the original cast – Elizabeth McGovern as Veronica, the art historian and definitely “woke” mother of the child whose teeth have been knocked out, and Nigel Lindsay as her husband, Michael, a rough-around-the-edges owner of a plumbing business.
Other than sex (possibly) it is hard to see what brought these two unlikely people together – and virtually impossible to see what will keep them married. McGovern nails the brittle vulnerability of her character, trying to rise above the maelstrom of revenge and resentment around her, and shaking in frustration at her inability to keep her base human emotions under control.
It is easier to see what may have attracted spiky but emotionally fragile wealth management specialist Annette (Samantha Spiro) and smooth lawyer Alan (Simon Paisley-Day) – self-interest will probably keep them together.
The stylish set mirrors the people who live in this opulent but characterless apartment, particularly the “chandelier” – a faux African spear montage that silently points to Veronica’s bleeding heart concerns for the war-torn region of Darfur (Sudan).
The play is performed without an interval, in real time, from the low-key opening of polite exchanges through tiger mother spats to drunken brawls … and the constant interruptions of Alan’s mobile phone as he deals with a business client’s crisis, providing a steely insight into a man whose suave veneer barely conceals the ruthless beast beneath.
Don’t expect to like these people – but look forward to a lot of laughs, a few shudders and a clever and entertaining night at the theatre.
Photographs by Nobby Clark.