The God of Carnage, Swan Theatre, Yeovil

prompt-swangod2YAZMINA Reza has written seven plays, and I am a huge, huge fan of her third, Art, having seen 20 of the 26 casts when it played to packed houses at Wyndhams and the Whitehall Theatres in London’s West End for the last few years of the 1900s.

She has a real talent for documenting life, from the trivial to the deep, including nasty and often immature behaviour of one person to another, and in Art she provides such an accurate picture of three close friends that by the end of the play most audiences feel part of the friendship.

Her fifth play, Life x 3, was produced at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre last year, and I was keen to see how it compared with Art, but mildly disappointed to find it more of a clever exercise in drama than a fully fledged play. It was only the extremely high level of acting and direction of the Swan Theatre Company which made this exercise entertaining, and it was therefore with mild trepidation, tempered by the same reassuring level of talent always on display, that I ventured back to The Swan to see Reza’s seventh play, The God of Carnage.

It was a huge relief to find that Swan veteran of more than 20 years Robert Graydon was not only directing the piece, but also playing one of the four roles, as a play feels safe in his hands. He has been involved in both the previous Reza plays at the Swan, and brings a deep knowledge of how she writes, as well as being able to appreciate the language of Christopher Hampton, who has translated all of her work. Graydon and his fellow three actors showcased Reza’s play to perfection, giving us light and shade from each of them, from a quiet, still, static opening, with all four sat on two sofas being polite, to the carnage of the title, as violence, victimisation, and vomiting take over the action.

A meeting between two sets of parents whose sons have been involved in a fight turns into a baring of souls, and the atmosphere gradually, and sometimes suddenly, changes from mild politeness to absolute insult, with expletives shouted into faces. Graydon plays lawyer Alain with such awareness and accuracy, and also brings to life his two clients Serge and Maurice via his constantly vibrating mobile phone, and by the end of the play we believe in these characters as much as the ones in front of us, as we do the mother of Michel, thanks to some wonderful telephone interaction from Roger Chadbourne.

These two are joined by their onstage wives, Veronique, who swings from pleasant host to complete dragon, and Annette, who has to cope with projectile vomiting, using some sort of gadget that was very cleverly disguised, and which convincingly sprayed the coffee table as required in the script. These two formidable women were played with complete conviction by Vivienne Evans and Tanya Ogden respectively, and what a joy it was to see them both in a more complete Yasmina Reza play, both of them having appeared in Life x 3. All four roles are played with absolute truth, the action is tightly directed and nothing in the performance seems artificial or false.

This play is very, very funny, from the physical interactions involving clafoutis, vomit, rum, phones and a hair dryer, to the breaking down of the characters one by one as the emotions run higher and higher, but as with all good comedy, we are often laughing at a sad situation, which is just becoming sadder and getting worse as we watch and laugh. This is much more like Art; it shows that Reza is a mistress of detailed observation, and a convincing story teller, and proves again that the talented company at the Swan can become different, yet totally convincing, characters with such an honesty that we believe in them completely.  See it if you can – it is theatre at its very best.


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