Written by Rebecca Harrison
Theatre Group’s run of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage began last night (23rd Feb) in the Alex Clegg theatre. Directed by Julia Brookes, the play follows two sets of middle-class parents - the Vallons and the Reilles. After a violent altercation between their sons, the parents come together to manoeuvre a reconciliation but end up degenerating into children themselves.
We walked in to Veronica Vallon (India Martin) meticulously re-arranging the living room in anticipation of her guests. The set is well done and the lighting simple but effective. When the audience are settled, the music switches with bravado from Nina Simone’s “Love Me Or Leave Me” to the opening of Beethoven’s fifth symphony as Michael Vallon (Charlie Crozier) enters, huffing about having to open the front door. The Vallons cordially welcome the Reilles and the music shuts off. And so begins a series of excruciating silences, panicked looks shared between couples and a very British grappling for pacifying things to talk about.
As the conversation ploughs on, Reza’s smart writing begins to bleed subtext into speech. Veronica, Michael and Annette (Phoebe Graham) pursue politeness despite an increasingly palpable tension between them. Passive aggressive digs steadily reveal the characters’ tacit grudges and prejudices against each other. Martin, Crozier and Graham are all excellent with straight-lined smiles and avoidant gazes, looking at anything but each other.
All photos taken by Abby Swain
The rude but hilarious interruptions of Alan Reille’s (Luke Holland) mobile begin the descent into carnage. The next to lose face is Annette, who’s exasperation with her husband and the others makes her physically ill—she heaves and sways for a while before spraying a perfectly-timed sick out at the audience. Everyone is in equal parts horrified and delighted. And the tension is palpable as she reaches for the bowl again in the third act.
The play snowballs from there: hot takes on virility, parenthood, mankind and civilisation slowly slur themselves into drunken monologues. Graham in particular is excellent: she is wonderfully expressive and constantly on. It’s a pleasure to watch. Luke Holland as Mr Reilly has great comedic timing - cutting in with Tory scoffs at “Ronnie’s morality and ideas of so-called Western “civilisation”. His half-ironic compliments – ‘I think I’m starting to like you’ – could have benefited with a bit more relish on delivery, but overall the performance was a hilarious mixture of sympathetic and detestable. There are some excellent moments from Crozier as Michael who defends his hamster homicide, calls their children bastards and nostalgically recalls his own days in a gang of pre-adolescents.
The characters abandon their decorum in stages, each punctuated with well-oiled slapstick: Alan pompously devours the rest of the Clafoutis whilst taking a business call; Veronica splashes the front row when she wrestles rum out of her husband’s hands; Annette destroys her husband’s phone; and the pristine tulips are hammered into the coffee table. The play ends with Annette throwing the vase of water over Veronica as each admits, “this might be the worst day of my life.”
The relationships are convincingly hard-boiled. The titular god of carnage seems to operate in the background to cause rifts between spouses, particularly when Mr Vallon fails to defend his wife from jabs from the opposing side. Alan undercuts Mrs Vallon’s pretentious moralising and entourage of cultural collectibles: coffee table books about Africa, anecdotes of India and Clafoutis. The men bond over their shared view of Veronica’s sense of right and wrong as dogmatic, happily repudiating all moral responsibility and deeming mankind to be savages with satisfied sips of rum. Veronica’s outrage plays off their apathy very well, as it does against Graham’s spot on middle-class mum. The type who wants to tie a ribbon around the problem and put it neatly away.
There were very few let downs. A few moments were confused due a slightly opaque use of staging - when Mr Reille takes his calls it is unclear if we should be watching him or not. And the first act could have done with spending less time on the salvaging of Veronica’s precious books, but these are minor gripes in an otherwise exceptional production (made even more impressive by the four-week turnaround). Overall the production was very funny and a delightfully shocking ride: Brookes uncovered the tensions within the play’s characters with subtlety and the timing of each carnal moment was flawless. God of Carnage is not one to miss and will play for the next two nights.
The show has sold out but there are Front of House opportunities available for the show tonight (24th), tomorrow (25th) and Sat night (26th). More information for this see this facebook post.