11 March 2009 (Mat)
"Don’t let the title put you off!"
I saw Yasmina Reza’s play in the West End last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. But much as I love Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig, I think I enjoyed the new cast in this touring production more. For not only have they shaved off about ten minutes in this “straight through” 90 odd minute play, making it much tighter and pacier, they also have the absolute master of the one-liner - Mr Richard E Grant - in the production who is one of the best in the business at delivering ultimate put downs and sarcastic asides.
And that’s just one of the joys of this fascinating play about the relationship between two couples. The title God of Carnage doesn’t really convey a feeling that there will be a lot of laughs but the play actually conjures up plenty and they all come out of what is an enthralling study of the human condition and reactions.
The action begins in the living room of a middle class French couple (Roger Allam and Lia Williams) whose child has been hit in the face with a stick by another boy, which has resulted in two of his teeth being removed. They are joined by the parents of the culprit (Grant and Serena Evans) who have come round to discuss the situation. It all starts quite gently as both couples are a little nervous, but it’s a wonderful slow burner and eventually the angry recriminations come out, which also highlight the weaknesses in each of the couple’s own characters and relationships.
It’s like Art, Reza’s first success in the UK, in that what begins as a low key discussion builds into an all out battle, this time between the sexes, and the fact that you go straight through the play without a break adds to the build-up of intensity.
After a nicey, nicey start, all the characters begin to cast off their inhibitions and release formerly hidden insecurities. In doing so they seem to validate the pronouncement of Grant’s character that The God of Carnage – or primitive aggression - is unstoppable once the genie has been let out of the bottle!
Joining Grant in the cast to release that particular genie are Lia Williams, Roger Allam and Serena Evans and the four provide a great evening (or afternoon) of entertainment!
Don’t get me wrong because I love Fiennes, and Ralph, if you’re reading this – which I accept is highly unlikely – I think you’re fab and you were great in this – it’s just that this part is just made for Grant because in all honesty his character Alain is like a new Withnail - bitter, cynical and seemingly unaware of everybody else’s feelings, or if he is aware, he doesn’t care!
In the rest of the cast, Roger Allam’s transformation from being friendly and tolerant to raging is hilarious, but at the same time sad, while Lia Williams, who has been seen to relish emotionally volatile parts in the past, doesn’t disappoint as Veronique, a highly emotive woman who wears her heart close to the surface. Alain’s wife Annette, played by Serena Evans, has been living in the shadow of her husband for too long and her release is a joy to watch as, like Veronique, she becomes just as aggressive as her spouse, if not more!
So, don’t let the title put you off. This is an extremely funny play that, like all good comedies of manners, gives you a very satisfying amount to think about as well and I left the theatre particularly concerned that a minor bicker about who was going to make the tea could escalate! But another bonus is that there’s plenty of time to go out for dinner afterwards too which is always a bonus in my book!