Review: God of Carnage (Theatre Royal Glasgow)

Often when we go to the theatre, we come to see dramatic battles, epic rivalries, and stories of grandeur that far exceed the petty drama and squabbles of our own lives. In God of Carnage though, it's exactly that kind of petty drama that is on offer. Married couples Veronica & Michael (Elizabeth McGovern & Nigel Lindsay) and Alan & Annette (Simon Paisley Day & Samantha Spiro) meet one afternoon to discuss a fight between their children, before conversation quickly descents into middle-class one-upmanship and playground politics.

As with any juicy domestic drama, it begins with awkward exchanges and pulsates with passive aggression. The pacing is slow to begin with, but it quickly becomes obvious that it is that way by necessity. The tension is tentatively and believably amped up little by little so that by the time tea and tart are swapped for whisky and cigars it seems perfectly natural. Lindsay Posner’s direction does justice to Yasmina Reza’s (translated) script, so that a play which is largely about four people sitting around and talking has a constant sense of danger, as though any one of them could spring from their seat and pounce on another.

The performances are all consistently solid, each with mannerisms that subtly distinguish them from the other small-talking, tea-sipping characters. Spiro’s character gets the greatest character arch (or descent into madness depending on how you look at it) and delivers petty jabs and accusations with Shakespearean levels of epic fury. Initially, McGovern’s crisp perkiness seems at odds with the restrained performances of her co-stars, but as the play goes on it is fittingly disposed of and replaced with whining and cursing, where her suppressed theatrical energy breaks through spectacularly.

As well as toying with themes of class, marriage, and childhood, the play also deals with gender in a way that, in time, will show its age more and more clearly. Reza’s play is only thirteen years old, and it quickly tears apart any over-simplified philosophy it presents regarding gender roles, but there are inescapable generalisations (“committed, problem-solving women, that’s not what men want! They depress us!”). That is, if they were not spoken by already dislikeable characters. In some ways the changing attitudes regarding gender has only made the play better – now we have even more reasons to be conflicted, even more arguments to take sides on. This play, and this production, offer what every child, teenager, and adult really want – a petty drama where everyone is taken down a peg or two, without any risk of being dragged into the firing line yourself. Four stars.

Whispers from the crowd:

“It was obviously very good! I loved the paralleling of squabbling parents and kids, really takes away the illusion of adulthood”

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