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‘God of Carnage’ – Middle-class angst laid bare in French modern classic with diversity twist…

‘God of Carnage’ – Middle-class angst laid bare in French modern classic with diversity twist…

Playwright Yasmina Reza’s award-winning play enjoys a new revival at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith

By Suman Bhuchar

DESCRIBED as a “dark comedy” – ‘God of Carnage’ was originally written in French and was translated into English by writer, Christopher Hampton.

It had its UK premiere in 2008 and won the Olivier Award for Best Comedy before becoming a worldwide hit.

It’s a popular play, so what is it about this tale that strikes such a chord?

We can recognise elements of ourselves and our neighbours and it reveals extremes of human nature.

Annette Raleigh (Dinita Gohil) and Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Novak (Freema Agyeman) in ‘God of Carnaage
Courtesy of Lyric Theatre©TheOtherRichard

Basically, it’s a story about two couples who meet up to discuss an argument their children have had and one of them has broken the other’s teeth.

In this production, the couples are Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Novak (Freema Agyeman) and her husband Michael Novak (Martin Hutson) whose child Bruno has been hurt by Ferdinand son of Alan Raleigh (Ariyon Bakare) and his wife Annette Raleigh (Dinita Gohil). We never see Bruno or Ferdinand.

Should the child apologise and how are the parents to deal with this?

Michael Novak (Martin Hutson) and Alan Raleigh (Ariyon Bakare)
Courtesy: Lyric/©TheOtherRichard

In this production, directed by Nicholai La Barrie, the couples are now culturally mixed but still middle class, opinionated, self –righteous and privileged.

At the beginning, the couples all very civilised and polite but beneath the veneer, there is an undertone of a lack of civility and even violence which begins to show as the evening progresses.

They begin by drinking coffee and eating a posh pastry called ‘clafoutis’ (and then there is an animated discussion about whether it’s cake or pastry – in English, it is a flan) and later move on to rum.

Veronica whose son Bruno is the injured party is writing a letter to whom we are not told – and she is asked to change a word from “armed” to “furnished”.

Alan keeps getting phone calls from his firm where he works as lawyer and is preoccupied with a potential medical lawsuit, but he really should not be discussing his work.

Meanwhile, Bruno’s dad has let out the pet hamster which could be a metaphor of sorts. He says the hamster scratched about all night and he couldn’t sleep.

MIchael (Hutson), Annette (Gohil), Alan (Bakare),
Ronnie (Agyeman) Lyric/©TheOtherRichard

The play takes place over an evening in the front room of the Novak home which is a clean modernist set designed by Lily Arnold and is in the round with a beautiful sound design by Asaf Zohar.

As the scenes progress, the set revolves slightly to give us another perspective but the background is all black and its looks like they are in a self-contained bubble.

Ronnie loves her art books and armchair activism, while Annette comes across as a trophy wife with expensive clothes and shoes.

At first, each couple blames the other for their lack of parenting skills, then the men blame the women and vice versa.

Everyone is pre-occupied with themselves and overacting slightly.

Why does Annette puke over the coffee table and books especially an art book so coveted by Veronica?

After a while no one cares and the evening ends in carnage.

There is a philosophical subtext that we are all just a veneer away from descending into chaos.

ACV rating *** (out of five)

‘God of Carnage’ by Yazmin Reza, Lyric Hammersmith Square, Lyric Square, King St, London W6 0QL.
(September 1) – September 30
Lyric box office: 020 87416850

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture