1 September 2023
GOD OF CARNAGE (Hammersmith Lyric Theatre) Review
Two boys have a playground altercation (off-screen) resulting in one knocking out two of the other one’s teeth with a stick. Now the two sets of parents are getting together to discuss calmly (as if!) how to best handle the incident.
Although the premise is original, the plotline of couples in a polite social setting descending into anarchy is hardly new or original. Albee’s 1962 “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is the prime and almost a like-for-like example of this exact setting. Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play won a Tony and a Olivier in 2009 and had numerous stagings with glorious casts (including the 2008 London production with Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Ken Stott, and Janet McTeer; the 2008 Paris production with Isabelle Huppert; the 2009 Broadway production with Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini, and Marcia Gay Harden, and boy was I sorry to have missed this one; subsequent productions all over the world; and the 2011 Roman Polanski film based on the play starring John C. Reilly, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and Kate Winslet).
Veronica (Freema Agyeman) and Michael (Martin Hutson) are parents of the boy who had his teeth knocked out. They are hosting in their home Annette (Dinita Gohil) and Alan (Ariyon Bakare), who are parents of the boy who did the hitting.
All throughout the show I was trying to understand the appeal. Sadly, I came up emptyhanded. Advertised at 90 minutes straight through (down from originally listed 2 hours with interval, thank goodness for that!), it overran by 15 minutes, and we felt it. Both my companion and I thought it could’ve finished a good half hour sooner and lost nothing. Whilst marginally fun to start with, the schtick grows tedious. The conversation gets constantly interrupting by Alan answering work calls, Veronica callously frets about her books when Annette accidentally damages them… It’s a hook, but there is no interesting message underneath (other than the fact that, when sufficiently annoyed, it’s easy for one to stop being respectful and civilised, but that’s hardly a shocking revelation). My dislike for the play settling in, I tried to focus on the acting and the production.
I don’t know if the idea for the set came from the designer Lily Arnold or the director Nicholai La Barrie, but it was a complete disaster. Instead of having 2 semicircular sofas largely facing the audience, the sofas made an almost a complete circle and were set on a slowly moving revolve. The upshot, of course, is that 3/4 of the time you had terrible sightlines and were looking at the back of a sofa no matter where you were sat in the auditorium stalls. The production had an intriguing warning, so we were excited to see it. Predictably, we had the back of a sofa facing up, so we missed it entirely. It is simply unforgivable to have sightlines this poor. I sit in a lot of cheap and obstructed seats (this wasn’t one of those times, as I was just off-centre in front stalls), and I’m struggling to recall another production whose set design annoyed me this much. “Mrs Warren’s Profession” comes to mind, but that’s about it for as long as I can remember. I am baffled by the fact that some of the show’s creative must’ve sat in the auditorium before the show started and haven’t said anything.
The acting was the best part of the show and probably the only reason I didn’t leave. Even so, there is a fair bit of overacting, mostly from Agyeman and Bakare. Whether that was La Barrie’s directorial choice or the actors making the roles their own, what we have is a couple of caricatures, which is contrary to the whole point of the play, which is to show how regular people devolve.
Hopefully the show will improve as the run continues, but it was a massive miss for me all around.
Cheapskate enjoyment value: -£5.
Cat rating: 1 purr.