What better way to tail end a season about chaos than with a play about carnage?
Yasmina Reza’s comedy of ill manners, God Of Carnage, strips away the niceties of civilised society and exposes us to humanity at its most base.
It’s opened at the Royal & Derngate in a new production directed by Kate Saxton. The premise of the story is perhaps more liberal-French in style than English but, cultural differences aside, the wickedly funny dialogue needs no translation.
Two sets of parents meet to thrash out some sort of entente cordiale after their respective sons get into a playground spat.
On the one side is international lawyer Alan and his wealth management wife Annette and in the red corner tradesman Michael and his right-on bleeding heart, save-the-starving, wife Veronica.
It all starts so politely, although there are tensions simmering under the surface, but before long they’re at each other in a cutthroat war of words. At one point pompous Alan declares that we’re all savages and, judging by their behaviour, it’s hard to disagree.
There are a couple of scenes that will have you convulsed while the rest is spot-on observational humour.
Sian Reeves (Cutting It) could have done with being a little more bohemian but the rest of the cast play their parts to perfection. Simon Wilson’s Alan is smarmy and superior, and certainly public school-educated where boys always settled disputes with a good thrashing. Michael (James Doherty) has a sneaking admiration for him, coming from a time when a juvenile punch-up was character building.
Even Annette, who sounds like a hands-off mother, probably thinks the whole situation has been blown out of proportion. Melanie Gutteridge comes across as a bit of a yummy mummy who shows her inner feelings in a spectacular fashion before letting rip with a disgracefully rum performance.
The setting has been moved from Reza’s native France to trendy Highbury which is one of the few places in Britain where, if you’re asked for a coffee, you can comfortably reply and receive an espresso. Ronnie and Michael also serve up clafoutis – a type of tart (as it’s made of pastry) - which probably can only be bought at Harrods Food Hall (not exactly a dessert of the people).
There’s no interval, which helps the action build, and by the final scenes it’s difficult to feel sympathy for anyone other than the two boys (who aren’t ever seen) who have, it appears, monstrous parents.
I can’t say I was impressed with Libby Watson’s set. We’re supposed to be in the home of a pair of left-wing, working class, liberals but the furnishing is more tart’s boudoir.
The stage has the most ridiculous rake which necessitates the poor women wearing flat shoes and almost requires crampons and climbing harness to ascend the slope. Can’t be much fun for them (though will do wonders for their calves).
It’s a scintillating confrontational piece which will have you laughing from start to finish.