Nick Le Mesurier reviews God of Carnage at the Bearpit Theatre, Stratford
Yasmina Riza’s comedy of manners tears down the façade of bourgeois liberalism to reveal the savagery beneath.
Two couples, Michael and Veronica (Roger Ganner and Penny Sandle-Keynes) and Alan and Annette (Tony Homer and Ruth Linnett) meet one evening to discuss their children. Their offspring have got into a fight and one has broken the teeth of the other.
It’s a trivial matter, but the parents are determined to make something of it. Soon the sneers beneath the smiles emerge as each party struggles for dominance in this war of words.
At bottom, it’s all about class. Alan is a high-flying lawyer, never off his mobile phone, cynically discussing a case defending a dodgy drugs company. His wife Annette is in “wealth management”, possibly her husband’s. Against them are the underdogs, who are no less capable for that: Michael is a wholesaler of household fittings, and Veronica, somewhat implausibly a pretentious writer on African affairs.
It’s as gripping to watch as a Wimbledon final, and the audience’s eyes flick left and right as blows are traded. Ruth Linnett is especially good as Annette. She takes tragi-comedy to a new level when she throws up on stage. It sounds revolting, but it’s a poignant moment of self-revelation, and cuts to the core.
The play takes big risks with its characterisation and themes, steering ever so close to the knuckle of parody. But it’s a triumph of adult comedy: beautifully produced, and very, very funny.
The god of carnage is let loose at the Bear Pit, and he’s laughing all the way.
* God of Carnage runs until Saturday May 14. Call 01789 403416 to book.