‘How many parents standing up for their child become infantile themselves?’ The answer must be at least four; as God of Carnage’s two couples, meeting to discuss a violent incident between their eleven year old sons, quickly leave any semblance of polite, grown-up behaviour behind.
Véronique (Anita Vettesse) and Michel Vallon (Colin McCredie), and Annette (Lorraine McIntosh) and Alain Reille (Richard Conlon) have come together to discuss what might have caused Ferdinand Reille to attack Bruno Vallon with a stick. Affairs begin in a civil, if tense, manner but as their meeting progresses and their rum is consumed, all pretence of polite restraint is abandoned. Conflicts arise not only between the Reilles and the Vallons; marital tensions come to the surface for both couples, as the women lose patience with their husbands’ sexism.
God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, has had a long production history since its debut in 2007, including celebrity-filled, award-winning runs in the West End and on Broadway. The Tron Theatre Company’s production, directed by Gareth Nicholls, can certainly compete with the best of them.
The design, by Karen Tennent, is what makes the show, with a ball pit placed around three sides of the stage. The stage itself has been transformed into an entirely white, unnaturally clean, sophisticated living room straight out of a magazine. As the characters grow more childish and give in to their self-centred impulses, the separation between adult space and child space blurs. It may be a simple metaphor, but it is very effective. It is also very humorous watching adults scramble around in brightly coloured plastic balls.
The contrast between childlike and adult behaviour is played with to hilarious effect throughout the production. The cast are all excellent, and their skill in drawing out the comedy through the physical moments, especially in cleaning up after an unfortunate projectile vomiting incident, is commendable.
God of Carnage is foremost a comedy, but it also remains relevant as a satire, perhaps particularly in the sense of cultural and racial superiority that lurks beneath the surface in all the characters, as evidenced by their use of the fundamentally colonial concepts of “civilised” and “savage” to describe their own behaviour. Even Véronique, who professes to care about social issues and is writing a book about Darfur, expects civility because they ‘are living in France, not Kinshasa’ – as though rudeness is to be expected outside the economically developed world. The problem is not that they are behaving like children, but that the more honest versions of themselves expose them as deeply unpleasant people.