You may recall the 2011 film ‘Carnage’, which was directed by Roman Polanski and starred Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet. The story started life as a play – ‘Le Dieu du Carnage’ – and I saw its latest revival at the Rose Theatre in Kingston (just a half hour train journey from London and well worth checking out for its interesting programme and friendly, welcoming atmosphere).
The play stars Elizabeth McGovern (Veronica), Simon Paisley-Day (Alan), Samantha Spiro (Annette) and Nigel Lindsay (Michael). It’s a strong line-up and the cast more than do justice to Yasmina Reza’s biting dialogue and dark humour. In case you’re not familiar with ‘God of Carnage’, it introduces you to two middle-class couples who have come together to discuss the fact that one couple’s son, Ferdinand, punched the son of the other couple, Bruno, in a playground bust-up. Ostensibly meeting to discuss how they should react to this incident, as middle class “enlightened” parents, we end up learning far more about the adults than we do about their children.
The film is set in Brooklyn, but this adaptation of the play transports us, appropriately enough, to the leafy enclaves of north London (trust me: I live there and I know these parents). And the title of the play is compellingly apt: this is 90 minutes of carnage, during which we witness Alan taking constant work calls on his mobile and Michael dealing with multiple calls from his elderly mother – who’s wondering whether to take a risky drug produced by Alan’s company. We also learn that Michael has released the family’s pet hamster into the wild, having got fed up with the noise it was making.
Add alcohol into the mix, and this meeting has the potential to become very combustible indeed. I loved all of the performances, but in particular I loved Samantha Spiro’s indignant, vulnerable, exasperated wife and mother. Ultimately, however, you end up sympathising with no-one. “Ghastly”, I wrote in my notes – a description which applies equally to the four protagonists (conversely, you feel deeply sorry for their children).
Ultimately, this play succeeds because, in real life, we’ve all met versions of these characters – and because its dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny. You cackle even while you’re cringing – in particular, whilst watching the alliances between our four protagonists shift and change; it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.
Uncomfortable, unsettling and relatable: I highly recommend ‘God of Carnage’.