GOD of Carnage was the second play by Yasmina Reza to win the Olivier Award for Best Comedy.
Her first, Art, is probably my favourite play. In eighty minutes French author Reza manages to encapsulate the spirit of friendship, particularly male friendship, and everything it represents. Having seen Art more times than any other play, and having directed it, I find it hard to love any other play by Reza, try as I may, but God of Carnage is the closest I believe she has come to the perfection of Art.
Christopher Hampton is rightly acclaimed as the best translator of French drama into English, having originally found success with Les Liaisons Dangereuses and most recently with his translations of the latest wonder child of French Theatre, Florian Zeller, whose latest work, The Height of the Storm will be on this very stage in a couple of weeks. In God of Carnage he manages to capture idiosyncrasies and natural traits of another country whilst making the words sound naturally English.
Once you have some of the best modern material written in French, translated by a master of his world, you need two more things, an award-winning director, in this case Lindsay Posner, an expert in the interpretation and presentation of work from Shakespeare to modern masters such as Pinter and Mamet, and a cast who really know how to bring the four characters to life. Fortunately Bath Theatre Royal have managed to get everything needed for this three-week run, part of their exciting 2018 Summer Season.
Four of the best actors in the country today make this production definitive – I always say that The Swan in Yeovil is the place to see any play produced to perfection, such is their attention to detail and hard work, but this cast and director have managed to better them by taking us deep into the world of two French couples, and their children, the catalyst for the action of the play, after the eleven year old son of one couple has punched and knocked out the two front teeth of the son of the others. There is a famous happening in this play, which I won’t give away, as it is truly spectacular when you see it for the first time, but Amanda Abbington as Annette carries it off with aplomb, and the others, Elizabeth McGovern, Nigel Lindsay and Ralf Little, all react in a completely natural and believable way, as their adult status slips further into the childishness the longer we spend with them. Some of the best work was in the controlled pauses that follow episodes of heightened tension, outbursts of insults, or physical violence, restoring the gentle pace of the play. I have seen all four of these actors in high-profile television shows, but this production is not about stars or names, it is about stagecraft; actors showing why they have risen to the heights they have, and hopefully impressing upon all of us just how electrifying theatre can be.
I have seen this play described as a farce, but rather like the best Ayckbourn plays, it may be farcical, and very, very funny at times, but it is a play, a drama, an accurate representation of life, and with this team you are seeing it performed and directed to near perfection. We leave the theatre not entirely sympathetic with any of the four characters, but in complete admiration of the craft of professionals at work.
You have until the end of next week to see this clever, witty, deep, intelligent, and very entertaining work at Bath, so try to get there if you can.
Photographs by Nobby Clark