God of Carnage
- Gareth K Vile
- 29 January 2020
Adults double down on childish conflict
Despite a heartfelt speech that celebrates a hidden god of carnage behind the horrors of human history, Yasmina Reza's script takes the attempts of two married couples to resolve a conflict between their sons and reveals the immature and selfish assumptions that drive their social identities. While Veronica (Elizabeth McGovern), Michael (Nigel Lindsay), Alan (Simon Paisley Day) and Annette (Samantha Spiro) desperately want to advertise their social responsibility and reasonable attitudes, their meeting descends into an unseemly row that spans gender politics, child-rearing and self-importance that reflects less carnage, and more of a petty childishness.
Written in the early 21st century, the production carries a slightly dated atmosphere: Alan is lent a Rees-Mogg louche arrogance with his abstracted air and slouch, but his attention to a mobile phone is less startling in 2020, although its eventual demise remains satisfying. The gendered conflict feels even more atavistic, as the men invoke John Wayne and Spartacus to combine forces against the women, who are characterised as more emotional and intuitive. Ultimately, however, all four are revealed as unpleasant and unprincipled, and the show stutters to an ending that accepts ignorance and apathy in equal measure.
The pleasures of the production are in the emotional and social cut and thrust, and the episodic movement between verbal violence and moments of confused peace. Alcohol becomes less a social lubricant than a provocateur, two shaky marriages are rocked and the ensemble adds a convincing nastiness to their characters. Without making broader comments on society – the political background is limited to mentions of massacres and a burgeoning pharmacy corruption case (Alan is the lawyer advising a company via his mobile on how to avoid a lawsuit) – God of Carnage is a serviceable satire on the middle-class desire to be reasonable and compassionate, which only mocks their pretensions.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, until Sat 1 Feb, and touring.