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God of Carnage

by on 13 August 2021

Masks Slipping

God of Carnage

by Yasmina Reza

The Questors, at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until 14th August

Review by Eleanor Lewis

Fights in the playground aren’t always between the children and there is the distinct possibility that sometimes those parental altercations caught on CCTV are watched back in the school office at the end of the day.  There is evidently an audience for parents behaving badly, especially amongst those parents who would never let themselves go like that …

Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage at Questors’ Theatre is about that subject and a great deal more: are we really superior in the West?  Is society in its current incarnation actually working?  Is marriage a good thing?  Why do people have children without any idea of what it will actually involve?  But the pivot on which all of that turns (or spins wildly) is the meeting between two sets of parents to discuss the fact that one of their children has whacked the other couple’s child and knocked out two of his teeth.

Véronique and Michel (Lydia King and Matthew Benson) invite Annette and Alain (Becky Hartnup and Simon Rudkin) to their apartment to resolve their children’s issues in the way that mature, sophisticated adults should.  Over the next eighty minutes, however, the four descend into vitriolic chaos, culminating in a drunken, tulip-hurling climax which is both very funny and a stark reproach for those of us kidding ourselves we’ve matured, any more than slightly, since primary school. 

Ably directed by Charles Douglas, the quartet of actors charged with this material did a sterling job.  Lydia King as Véronique flapped bird-like in her robe around the stage, barely able to contain her anger, in contrast to her magnanimous, jovial husband Michel (Matthew Benson), who was delightfully cavalier in relating his dreadful treatment of the family hamster.

Annette, mother of the ‘attacking’ child, was another firmly-bound bundle of controlled emotions as played by Becky Hartnup, and her fragmentation the most physical and spectacular, while her husband Alain (Simon Rudkin) was a study in oblivious self-importance as the corporate lawyer attached to his mobile which must never be ignored. 

The comedy lurking in that gap between who we actually are, as opposed to who we like the world to think we are, has always provided playwrights with material but Yasmina Reza’s plays tend to question the issues that oppress her characters too, so there is a balance to be reached between this and the comedy.  Questors’ production succeeded in finding this balance.  Amongst other noticeable moments, Véronique is seen to be almost as attached to her possessions as she is to her son. 

Anne Glimour’s costumes, from Véronique’s robe to the minimal black of Annette and Alain and the soft brown sweater for the “seller of home appliances”, Michel, added an extra layer of authenticity to the proceedings.  Costume seems often to be underrated unless it’s spectacular, which is a shame.

Some circumstances conspired against this production: the play itself is better suited to a smaller, studio-type space but social-distancing meant a run in the large playhouse.  This can’t be helped and serves the greater good – at least performance is possible.  Additionally, the director appeared before the performance to tell the audience that one actor would be appearing with the script, having been struck down with Covid during the rehearsal process.  Such was the skill of that actor however, that this audience member forgot about it, aside from a couple of occasions when it was unavoidable but certainly not obtrusive.   

Questors’ production of God of Carnage is a slightly sobering but very enjoyable eighty minutes.  Highly recommended.

Eleanor Lewis, August 2021

Photography by Jane Arnold-Forster

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