Review for THE NOMADS, Nomad Theatre, East Horsley June 2021
God Of Carnage
Directed by Elaine Burns
God of Carnage is described as a “dark comedy”. It is set in Paris, in the living room of Michel and Véronique Vallon whose son Bruno has had a fight in a local park with Ferdinand, the son of Alain and Annette Reille. Ferdinand knocked out two of Bruno’s teeth. The parents of both boys, who are aged 11, meet to discuss the matter. The evening starts in a fairly civilised way with tea and clafoutis (a classic French cherry cake), the men bonding with each other to start with, but gradually degenerates into chaos as the four become progressively more argumentative and childish, take to the bottle, and eventually part company, hurling accusations at each other including their own spouse. The characters retained their French names, emphasising the setting of the story in Paris. Other productions over the years have adopted English names, losing the French location. The play has been performed all over the world in different languages since it was launched in 2006, and includes a film adaptation directed by Roman Polanski in 2011 under the title Carnage.
The casting was impeccable. The play opens with Véronique Vallon, played by Andrea Charles, reading the extent of her son Bruno’s injuries from a clipboard, playing with semantics as to whether the other boy, Ferdinand, was ‘armed’ with a stick and did he ‘disfigure’ Bruno. Her claim to fame is that she is writing a book on Darfur and has an interest in art, cherishing various exhibition catalogues. Michel, (Ian Creese), her somewhat coarse husband, is a wholesaler of household wares (pots and pans, as he described it) who has a slightly neurotic, sick mother who constantly telephones. He slouches in his chair, while initially trying to keep the peace. He is vilified by the others for throwing out his daughter’s pet hamster and leaving it to die in the street. (Fortunately, we don’t actually see this!)
Annette Reille (Helen Teasdale) and her husband Alain (Jason Spiller) are the slicker of the two couples – he an arrogant lawyer and she is something to do with wealth management. The superior (he thinks) Alain is constantly interrupted by his mobile phone and we listen to his conversations with colleagues, becoming more and more irate and vindictive, about a court case with a pharmaceutical company that is verging on litigation. Spiller’s handling of the mobile phone calls was superb, very believable, and his subsequent descent into inebriation after partaking of too much rum was skilfully controlled and not overdone.
Another clever touch was when Annette realistically vomits all over the floor, coffee table and precious art books, cleverly operated from a cushion she was clutching. Her tantrum over Alain’s use of his mobile which she throws into the vase of flowers was very funny, as was her parting shot of trashing the tulips out of the vase, which Alain tries to clear up, crawling all over the floor.
The play ends with both couples being the worse for wear, the Reilles’ staggering out, leaving the Vallons to continue their own personal brawl and Véronique still trying to meet up with Annette to discuss their sons’ behaviour. There is a danger with a one-act play and a small number of characters that the pace drops off or it is too static. Not so here. The skilful direction of Elaine Burns made sure that it moved along briskly but without being rushed. The cast provided their own costumes which appropriately displayed the difference in their social standing – the professional Reilles’ and the more down-to-earth Vallons.
A single, simple set of the Vallon’s living room with one entrance centre back, giving nothing away as to the era but clearly indicating the present because of the extensive use of a mobile phone. Minimal props but the scene with the cushion concealing the vomit of the unfortunate Annette was cleverly performed! The introductory music of Françoise Hardy singing Tous les garcons et les filles de mon age provided an authentic French feel and certainly took me back to my days at University in France in the early 1960s!
A most enjoyable evening. Congratulations to everyone – skilful direction by Elaine Burns who was lucky to have an extremely talented cast, every one of them wholly believable, and a friendly welcoming Front of House team who managed to uphold the necessary Covid rules without overdoing it.
Jane Turner – Assistant Rep, NODA