Yasmina Reza's play Art
was a huge West End hit in the '90s and the latest attempt to repeat the success is another story of respectable, middle class French people going off the deep end over a relatively trivial matter. In God of Carnage
Alain (Ralph Fiennes) and Annette's (Tamsin Greig) 12-year-old son has hit Michel (Ken Stott) and Veronique's (Janet McTeer) son in the face with a stick, costing him a couple of teeth. The parents are meeting to discuss this and try to put the event behind them. They are unfailingly polite, until it becomes apparent they'll never agree either on the children's behaviour or on other issues, such as lawyer Alain's attempts to help a pharmaceutical company that knowingly distributed a drug with dangerous side-effects, or Veronique's project about Darfur. The evening gradually builds into increasing hysteria after Annette accidentally vomits on Annette's favourite book.
Matthew Warchus' production is very funny although the tone does vary - Reza famously doesn't consider her plays to be comedies but tragedies, and some of the bleaker moments are a weird contradiction to the funny stuff. But overall it works - as the star name Fiennes seemed to be getting a lot of indulgent laughs from the audience to start with, and he does have an ability to do dry comedy, but soon Stott and Greig were the ones who stood out. One thing I enjoyed was the way allegiances changed seamlessly - at some point or other every combination of characters paired up together against the other two, and it came across as both funny and realistic, with them basically taking support where they could find it. Mark Thompson's design is striking as the entire set is painted blood-red except for the furniture, so as soon as the curtain goes up you know you're in for an evening that goes for the extremes. I don't think it'll run as long as Art
but it's a worthwhile follow-up to that play. I went with vanessaw
and she absolutely loved it.God of Carnage
by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, is booking until the 14th of June at the Gielgud Theatre.