Circa Theatre
April 4-May 9 | Reviewed by Helen Sims

IT IS FUN to watch very good actors behave very badly. It is even better when they are doing so in a Yasmina Reza play – her incredibly sharp writing gives them so much to work with as the comfortable veneers of two middle class couples are peeled away. Although the play operates on an intellectual level (it’s often a battle of words and wits) it also has a primal undertone to it, as parents spring to defend their cubs. As with her previous plays, Life x 3 and Art, Reza takes a group of middles class characters and exposes them as no better than the battling playground savages they have met to discuss.

The play is set in the Parisian flat of Veronique and Michel Vallon. They are comfortable middle class left wing liberals. Veronique is committed to art and her own idea of social justice. She’s currently writing a book about Darfur. Michel is a wholesaler of bathroom fittings, who receives frequent calls from his sick mother. Their son, Bruno, has had several of his teeth knocked out by Ferdinand Reille, the son of Annette (aka ‘Woof Woof’) and Alain, a wealthy, conservative couple. They have gathered in the Vallon’s apartment to discuss the matter in a civilised fashion. Alain is a high-powered lawyer, and the play opens with Veronique and he engaged in a debate over the correct words to use to express the incident. This duel draws one of the battle lines of the play – liberal ‘bleeding heart’ empathy vs conservative pragmatism. The other emerges as the play develops – husband vs wife. As the battles rage inside the living room, we get some sense of a link to the outside world – mainly through the phone calls being received by Alain about his client, a pharmaceutical company.

Aside from the sharply satirical writing, perhaps one of the best features of the play is that Reza does not develop the characters in the traditional sense. Instead, the characters ‘un-develop’ – they revert to positions of broad stereotype. It is a credit to the brilliant cast that none of the characters become mere caricatures, even as the satire intensifies. Despite the odd touch of heavy handed direction, the play rips along at just the right pace for us to appreciate the writing and the performances, but not lag.

I was left with the feeling that Reza has not made entirely made her wider point as successfully as in her previous plays. However, God of Carnage is such a satisfying play in terms of dialogue that in the hands of an excellent cast such as this it doesn’t really matter. The design is also generally excellent, with a light fixture appearing to mirror changes in mood between the characters. I questioned why the setting was left in Paris, with ‘received’ English accents being adopted by the cast. I can’t see a reason why the play is particularly tied to any one location – in fact the Broadway production set the play in New York – but again, these quibbles are minor in the face of a production I thoroughly enjoyed.