Theatre review: God of Carnage

A biting comedy of manners that spirals into a shaming demonstration of bad manners

Venue: The Mac

Date Reviewed: February 11th, 2015

Website: themaclive.com

Phone: +442890235053

Thu, Feb 12, 2015, 14:53

   

God of Carnage

The Mac, Belfast

****

 

It begins on a note of studied civility. Two affluent, middle-class couples come together in a spirit of reconciliation to discuss in reasonable tones a playground squabble between their 11-year-old sons. Faux-friendly small talk is exchanged, espresso and home-baked clafoutis are served, due consideration is given to whether the aggressor, Ferdinand, was “armed” or “furnished” with the stick that removed Bruno’s front teeth.

But in an alarmingly short space of time, the gloves come off and Michel and Véronique’s elegant living room is reduced to a battlefield as Yasmina Reza’s biting comedy of manners spirals into a shaming demonstration of bad manners. Reza is a smart satirist, adept and confident in her portrayal of the French bourgeoisie, exposing layers of bile, malice and recrimination lurking between and among the protagonists.

Surprisingly, this is the play’s first production in Northern Ireland, a joint venture between Prime Cut and the Mac. Its timing is fortuitous, coming in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which horribly highlighted the perils of the French obsession with freedom of speech. Emma Jordan’s relentless, searching direction revels in that theme. This quartet may be paid-up members of polite society, but scratch the surface, pour a few drinks and tongues are loosened in an unedifying mixture of intolerance, racism, misogyny and nihilism.

In shifting between spoken English and French social mores, Christopher Hampton’s multi-award-winning translation occasionally rings awkwardly in tone, context and semantics. The balance between broad humour and intellectual rigour brings its own challenges, and there are phases when one senses the hard graft of the mechanical process.

Production values are high. Ciaran Bagnall’s set is at once stylish and restrictive, crowned by curving wooden ribs that encompass and entrap its inhabitants. Ali White and Dan Gordon, Kathy Kiera Clarke and Sean Sloan combine effectively as, respectively Véronique and Michel, Annette and Alain, the first an unlikely pairing of arty social crusader and philistine hardware dealer, the second a sleek, stressed-out power couple. They throw themselves into the complex dialogue, finding common ground and causes for mutual dislike. Sloan is an unsettling presence as a litigation lawyer clinically attached to his mobile phone, while Gordon’s comic skills crank up his genial but crass character, a self-confessed Neanderthal, who believes that life is second-rate and marriage a terrible ordeal. Until February 21st

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