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God of Carnage

by on 29 May 2022

Pitfalls of Parenthood

God of Carnage

by Yasmina Reza, translation by Christopher Hampton

Richmond Shakespeare Society at the Mary Wallace Theatre until 4th June

Review by Celia Bard

The play God of Carnage, a farcical comedy, runs for about ninety mins without any breaks or change of scenes.  Throughout the play, characters hurl a barrage of insults at each other, many concealed by a thin veneer of civilised behaviour.  The two sets of parents have met to discuss the behaviour of two boys, one of whom has attacked the other with a stick, resulting in the breaking of two incisors and damage to a ‘half a nerve’ in a tooth.

Theatrically, these types of argument make for interesting theatre, as they often succeed in revealing multidimensional levels of character when emotional buttons are pressed.  The play is funny and presents the kind of humour that makes you laugh aloud either through verbal wit or farcical comedy.

First premiered in 2006 and initially written in French, this reviewer finds the play still has the power to strike a chord into some of the pitfalls of married life, especially when children are concerned.  The whole play takes place in the sitting room of the home of Veronica and Michael.   Originally set in Paris, director Harry Medawar has set the play in Twickenham.  While the play is essentially about the individual personalities of the characters and the relationship between the two couples, it also says something about men versus women, and class differences between the couple; and this is cleverly conveyed by Medawar who, through well-considered stage blocking of furniture, props and positioning of the characters, aptly communicates this aspect of the play to the audience.

The set design works well for the actors.  Coffee table, settee and chairs allow them to move naturally on the stage, and to communicate easily with each other.  This visual arrangement of stage furniture, and naturalistic movement goes a long way in helping the director achieve an artistic vision of the play.  Props are strategically placed, and actors are confident in their use of them.  Dominating the back wall of the stage hangs a huge impressionistic painting that provides a level of insight into Veronica’s personality. 

At first, Veronica, played by Susan Gerlach, comes across as the most benign of the group, believing that an amicable settlement can be reached about the injury to her son through negotiation.  Veronica, however, is very judgemental and seeks to instil a sense of shame in Ferdinand’s parents, the son of Alain and Annette.  Bit by bit, this veneer is stripped away, and we see in her a complete loss of behavioural control.   Although Gerlach has a strong stage presence, her voice lacks projection; often it is difficult to hear what she is saying.  Unfortunately, this was also the case in the very important last moments of the play, and unless one has prior knowledge of the play, the audience is left wondering what was said on the telephone.

Peter Easterbrook who played Michael, Veronica husband, gives a controlled performance.  Throughout the play, however, the tension in him is palpable and you feel that violence is bubbling away below the surface of his character.  During the opening moments of the play, although his character is well in place, this actor’s delivery of lines was quiet and as with two other actors, a lot of the surface tension was lost.  However, after the ‘sick-making incident’ concerning Annette, he springs into life and for the rest of the play provides an emotionally-charged, multi-dimensional view of the character his is portraying.

Annette, played by Amanda Adams, tries for a long time to hide the rising anger caused by her husband’s seemingly indifference to what is going on, and his questioning of why he has to be present at the meeting.  Adams has some difficult props to manage, and she does this extremely well.   She has some difficult scenes to negotiate with Veronica, and the overall effect of these are lost because of lack of light-and-shade in their interaction, and somewhat over the top, shrill, slanging matches.

The actor, responsible for helping to bring life and a sense of reality to the play, is Vaughan Pierce, who plays Alan, husband to Annette.  From the onset he fills the stage with his presence; and through his excellent acting skills, body movement and vocals communicates wide ranging emotional responses to the audience.  Repartee, both witty and vicious, only works well if the audience can hear what is being said.  Pierce’s delivery of lines throughout is faultless.  Congratulations to this actor also for masking his ‘slip’ during the curtain call.

Overall the production succeeds in exploring the pitfalls of parenthood when facing the dilemma of having to cope with fights that sometimes break out between children, and when parents hold different views regarding the seriousness of such assault.  The script is strong, as is the direction and this helps to offset difficulties, discussed earlier, associated with vocalisation.

Celia Bard, May 2022

Photography by Simone Germaine

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