After their son has been hit with a stick by one of his classmates, and lost two teeth in the process, Véronique (Anita Vettesse) and Michel (Colin McCredie) invite the culprit’s parents in their home to discuss the incident over a cup of tea and a slice of clafoutis. The plot of Yasmina Reza’s play God of Carnage unfolds entirely in the couple’s immaculate drawing room. The result is a convincing and humorous portrayal of bourgeois frustration resolving itself in chaos, which is skilfully, if a bit too cleanly executed.
Meet Véronique and Michelle, a couple living in financial ease off his wholesale business and her books on Darfur, and their reticent guests, elegant Annette (Lorraine McInstosh), who works in ‘wealth management’, and her coldblooded husband Alain (Richard Conlon), a lawyer embroiled in a pharmaceutical scandal who just won’t let go of his phone. From the outset, something is off – including the set, which designer Karen Tennent has encircled with a colourful ball pit, signalling the protagonists’ impending regression into childish unruliness. Both couples try to chuckle their mutual unease and dislike away, tiptoeing on the edge of crisis as they discuss their children’s fight.
The comedy turns into farce when Annette has a panic attack that causes her to vomit all over Véronique’s expensive books – prompting the latter to reveal a singular lack of empathy. Soon, all protagonists display a darker side, and by the end of the meeting, there are no more appearances to be saved. The script subtly plays out the two pairs’ irksome differences, the tension slowly building up under the gloss of polite conversation before sliding into havoc, all deftly rendered by Christopher Hampton’s fluid translation. The cast have an essential part in this psychological drama. Anita Vettesse excels in conveying Véronique’s phoney goody-two-shoes act, as does Richard Conlon in his portrayal of Alain’s cynical, brutal demeanour.
Overall, I feel that the result could really be quite disturbing (there is even some talk about killing one’s child’s pet, an idea which I find personally traumatizing), but Gareth Nicholls’s production takes a decisively light approach. This, while slightly smoothing out the play’s social criticism, still results in scenes of delightfully dark comedy and cringe-inducing moments. When the protagonists finally go frolicking in the ball pit, we seem to be looking at a party gone desperately wrong. I wonder what the outcome would be, had the plastic balls spilled all over the stage been replaced with different projectiles. The production leaves this question open to interpretation, but the moral seems to be that when adults engage in their own kind of child play, the results can be quite messy.