Venue: Drama barn
Director: Rory McGregor
Producer: Louis Lunts
My expectations already raised by the novelty of being given a programme upon entry to the Barn, I was curious to find out who this ‘God of Carnage’ might be. We’re never really given much of an inkling in this dark comedy written by Yasmin Reza, in which two very middle class couples meet up to discuss the appropriate course of action following a fight between their 11 year old-sons, wherein one of the sons lost two teeth. We never meet the sons, but instead witness the unravelling of middle class social etiquette and formality as the play descends into gradually progressing heights of farce and argument between the two couples, Michel and Veronique (Max Fitzroy-stone and Clare Curtis-Ward) and Alain and Annette (Mungo Tatton-Brown and Helena Clark).
Veronique suggests that it would have been ‘nice to meet under different circumstances’. Yet none of the other characters actually want to be there, as is abundantly from early on. Controlling and insecure Veronique, a complex character who Curtis-Ward does utter justice to throughout, enforces this unlikely meeting in part to ensure that Ferdinand is properly punished by his parents.
From the off, tension is bubbling below the surface, and the question is not if formalities break down, but how soon. But it is Alain, a lawyer, performed exquisitely by seasoned Barn performer Tatton-Brown, who is the key culprit in ensuring the demise of etiquette. Dialogue is frequently interrupted by him answering phone calls to do with a court case, which is pulled of slickly and often hilariously. At the zenith of anger between the two couples, Alain proclaims that the opposing couple’s ‘marriage is fucked!’ only for him to then straight away answer a phone call.
From there, frantic back and forth argument, within and between the couples, ensues. At first it is concerned with their two sons, but they are quickly forgotten and it all becomes a lot more personal. There is no interval, but the consistently brilliant acting and considered directing from Rory McGregor ensured for the full one hour and twenty minutes the audience was gripped. Even when not talking, it was clear that the actors had given considerable thought to what they should be doing.
There are moments of tortuous drama, notably when Annette quite suddenly vomits all over Veronique’s prized photography books, a complicated action that was carried out very professionally and which was met with a collective groan from the audience. The neat and plush sitting room, that bastion of middle-class security, had been profaned by something as mundane and vulgar as human vomit. Annette, until now a rather timid character, becomes much more animated and aggressive, fuelled in part by alcohol, and Helen Clarke oversees this transformation adroitly.
Credit goes to Max Fitzroy-Stone’s entertaining portrayal of the somewhat meek Michel. The relation between him and his wife is a joy to behold. Michel, initially obsequious to his overbearing wife, becomes emboldened and the cracks of their marriage come into full display.
One of the final acts of high drama is where Annette throws her husband’s precious mobile into a vase of tulips. The characters after this are drained of all energy, and there’s a brilliant moment where Veronique is on the telephone to her daughter and the other actors all totally still, a portrait of utter despondency. For the last 15 minutes the play lost some of its energy too, going over the same turf and waiting for a sense of closure. The weak ending that finally came was when Michel queries ‘What do we know?’.
What do we know indeed? The audience is left with little to ponder. The play claims to be a dark comedy, yet where is the darkness? We see the tensions of a marriage explode, and we have some banal expositions about the nature of society and morality, but there’s nothing particularly sinister about the whole thing, just rather farcical. The plot is frankly implausible: the scenario of two couples coming together and the resulting descent into emotional and impassioned turmoil that is played out just wouldn’t happen. Yasmin Reza could get away with such melodrama were she to provide any sort of insight, were she to add another layer beyond farce, but she fails to do this.
The back of the programme informs that the play is under consideration for the National Student Drama Festival. And rightly so. All actors perform to a stellar standard and the direction gets as much out of the script as possible. But for me, the script is what lets the show down. This isn’t the fault of the director or actors. I’ve been teetering between giving the play either four or five stars, and have plunged for the latter. It’s very refreshing watching student drama and realising that what angsts you have are not against the actors or director, but the playwright.