The God of Carnage
Loft Theatre, Leamington, until January 27
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
Social graces are basically nature’s way of suppressing the demons that lurk beneath. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to make us regress.
Cynical though this might sound, it’s the underlying theme of this award-winning play. Humankind is never far away from relapsing into infantile and even psychotic behaviour.
But – and it’s a big but – here is also one of the funniest plays of the modern era and, given a peach of a production like this, the result is a truly joyous entertainment.
With two couples holding the stage for the full ninety minutes, as parents attempting to conciliate over a playground punch-up between their young sons, everything hinges on style and performance. Director Sue Moore controls the delicious downward spiral from good-mannered, reasonable discussion to infantile mayhem between the adults with strength and subtlety, ensuring that an almost incredible credibility is never really lost in the process.
She is served by a superb quartet of performances, each revealing specific characteristics which, when brought to the boil, simply erupt off each other with agonising intensity. There is the initially patronising superiority of Ruth Herd’s hostess, inwardly seething at her little lad’s injuries at the hands of his schoolmate. Only when the gloves are off does she find common ground with Julie-Ann Randell’s comically awkward rival mum.
As for the dads, Mark Crossley’s low-brow dealer in toilet seats and kitchen utensils hilariously contrasts with Dave Crossfield’s upper-crust lawyer. For one, shame lies in having his rodent phobia exposed while the other’s stifling mobile-phone world is ruthlessly disrupted when things go wild.
Writer Yazmina Reza set the play in France and while its broad features are essentially Gallic, the theme of quarrelling parents descending to child-like antics is universal. Richard Moore’s set design reflects this with an effective social middle ground to house the manic events.
You can choose to reflect on the serious aspects of the essential theme, but Christopher Hampton’s translation brilliantly points up the sitcom element and the Loft rides high with a perfectly cast and deliriously funny season opener.