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God of Carnage
London review by Lizzie Loveridge
The initiator of the meeting and mother of the injured Bruno, Veronique Vallon (Janet McTeer) is a liberal author with intellectual aspiration, who writes about Darfur. Her down to earth husband Michel Vallon (Ken Stott) deals in wholesale domestic goods. The parents of Ferdinand are the quirky Annette Reille (Tamsin Greig) something "in wealth management" and Alain Reille (Ralph Fiennes), a corporate lawyer who has his mobile phone almost permanently glued on his ear.
Of course Reza's barbs are aimed at those who largely make up her theatre audience, the middle classes with pretensions to bringing up their children properly. With Christopher Hampton as her translator, the dialogue is exact and very funny. As Veronique receives compliments for the quality of her version of the confection Clafouti, a kind of pudding with fruit in a custard like batter, we are reminded that this play was written by a French woman, as the recipe becomes a matter of pride. In fact one of the Reilles says, "At least all this has given us a new recipe!" Competition is never very far away from the discussion as evident from Ralph Fiennes' character's impatient parting shot: "Clearly you have parenting skills which are superior to ours!"
While we feel the women might agree on most things, the men are very different. Michel has released Nibbles, the family pet hamster into the street the night before to an almost certain cold, shivering death because the noise of the hamster's wheel was disturbing his son. Alain's insensitivity takes another form; he is taking calls on his mobile as he advises a drug company about damage limitation for the side effects of their medication which has most patients looking as if "they are permanently pissed". When Michel's mother phones up her son to discuss her medication for blood pressure, they realise that it is this same product that Alain has been discussing.
The performances are first rate as you might expect from such an illustrious cast. Tamsin Greig as the strung woman who manages to vomit all over Veronique's precious collection of coffee table books and Janet McTeer as the rangy Veronique flexing her fingers agitatedly and pacing the room barefoot. A bottle of rum makes sure that alcohol fuels some of the dramatic excesses of the evening. Veronique, who hates being called Roni, is exposed as the supporter of peace and stability in Africa who cannot achieve a peaceful settlement of the boys' playground dispute.
The marriages rip apart as Annette takes revenge on her husband's constant conversations on the intrusive cell phone and the tulips bought to make the setting attractive are thrown all over the floor. Michel and Veronique Vallon expose their lack of common values in this marriage of small businessman and author. Both men get off less lightly from Reza's pen than the women. Describing themselves as having been brought up with "a John Wayne-ish idea of virility" they are not going to agree from the off. Ken Stott's pompous Michel is dislikeable, Ralph Fiennes' detached lawyer is disinterested but very funny.
Mark Thompson's emphatic red walled set rages from the off but although I was in Row F of the Stalls my companion and I had problems with the sightlines in this part of the Gielgud. My advice would be to secure seats in the Circle or maybe the management should look at raising the stage to take care of the lack of rake. Like Art, God of Carnage is a light and amusing social comedy which will draw an audience as long as it has theatrical stars in it.
God of Carnage
Written by Yasmina Reza
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Ken Stott, Janet McTeer, Tamsin Greig
Design: Mark Thompson
Lighting: Hugh Vanstone
Sound: Simon Baker
Music: Gary Yershon
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5130
Booking to 14th June 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 26th March 2008 performance at The Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1