The God of Carnage
HANNAH MIRSKY is compelled by the behaviour of squabbling adults who have forgotten to put away childish things.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tuesday 7th – Saturday 11th May, £6/5
When I was ten, I was a library monitor. Retrospectively, I’m not sure what the point of that job was – it mostly involved rearranging books in height order. (I won’t even bother making a joke about my coolness as a child.) Anyway, there were six of us, but we subdivided into two warring factions of three, huddled in opposite corners of the school library, sending threatening notes across the room. At the time, the rivalry was an all-consuming passion, filling us up with utterly ungrounded grudges. The God of Carnage, in its depiction of two middle-class French couples meeting to discuss their eleven-year-old sons’ violence, is a play which posits that people don’t necessarily grow out of this kind of behaviour. Michael Vallon, played adeptly by Matt Clayton, responds to the news that his son has his own gang with the exclamation, ‘Fantastic!’
The actors do a very satisfying job of exposing the childishness beneath their characters’ respectable veneers. Isabelle Kettle as the moralising Veronica Vallon deserves special recognition for her utterly convincing depiction of Veronica’s slide from artsy smugness to bitchy hysteria. The other characters are perhaps marginally less unhinged, but no more likeable, and it is to the credit of the actors that they are able to keep an audience engaged in this world of hypocrisy and petty rivalries. They do occasionally miss the mark: Jon Porter as the shouting immoral lawyer Alan Reille sometimes delivers his more abstract lines as though they were universal truths, rather than a character’s opinion. (This might, in fairness, also have a little to do with the character’s breath-taking arrogance.) But flaws are minor in what is mostly a deftly naturalistic performance.
At times, however, the production is almost too naturalistic: the advertising promises a ‘savagely funny’ production, but many of the comic lines aren’t given the space, in the to-and-fro of realistic conversation, to raise the smallest of laughs. Only Olivia Emden as Annette Reille really gets across the potential hilarity of the situation, delivering drawling sarcasm on lines such ‘Oh, I am sorry’, and shooting pointed angry looks at Porter, playing her husband. The production does have some very funny moments, but its commitment to psychological realism means it leans heavily on the play’s philosophical implications about the self-centred nature of humanity rather than the comedy. At times it is in danger of taking the characters’ petty world a little too seriously.
Nonetheless, the bickering still makes for compelling viewing: one particularly infantile retaliation left me open-mouthed in shock. The God of Carnage won’t provide you with the funniest evening of your life, but it will both enthral and appal you. Its bleakness about our inherent selfishness is thought-provoking, and the action is gripping. I left the theatre close to flabbergasted at the squabbles of these apparent adults who had, at some point growing up, forgotten to put away childish things.