God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith
Director Nicholai La Barrie revives Yasmina Reza’s award-winning God of Carnage. The evening begins graciously enough at the Lyric Hammersmith before transmuting into a damning display of human behaviour at its very worst. Often described as a comedy of manners without the manners, the one-act play sees two sets of parents gather to conduct a civilised conversation regarding their respective children. Ferdinand has been in a violent brawl with Bruno, the latter coming out of it two teeth short. As the adults initially attempt a rational and constructive approach to dealing with the issue, their polite facades soon slip and they effectively morph into children themselves as tears and tantrums ensue.
Freema Agyeman of Doctor Who fame leads an exquisite ensemble of four as passive-aggressive and controlling host Veronica; Martin Hutson complements her well as vindictive husband Michael. Ariyon Bakare exudes arrogance as the self-important always-on-his-phone lawyer Alan, and his wife, Annette, is the subdued tolerant of his not so carefully concealed misogyny, played beautifully by Dinita Gohil, who enjoys an especially entertaining finale. The cast completely deliver, with each offering multiple layers, which are gradually peeled back to reveal their inner, ruthless selves in an animated, enthralling manner. The back-and-forth between the actors is electric. One can’t help but sit back and watch with both horror and amusement as these four individuals expose themselves for who they truly are.
Lily Arnold provides a minimalist living room set that gradually rotates as each of our four central characters unravel to display their true selves. The circular motion is echoed in the conversations, whereby everyone is resolute and no one is open to hearing the opinions of others. Richard Howell’s lighting design puts the characters on display, as if they are in a gallery for us to inspect and mull over.
Reza has in the past rejected the idea of her works being described as comedies, insisting they are in fact tragedies, albeit funny ones. La Barrie undoubtedly captures the undercurrent of humour rippling throughout the 90 minutes, however, the four characters are rendered somewhat robotic and perfunctory in the process. While initially amusing in a second-hand embarrassed kind of way, the actions and articulations of the four fast grow tedious. One is left to ponder just what lies beneath the surface of the frankly puerile behaviour exhibited. The playwright’s jabs at social hierarchy and gender roles shine through, but here they are somewhat muted in the overshadowing melodrama and somewhat static nature of this revival. An awkwardly fun hour and a half that lacks the punch promised by a writer celebrated for her acute observations of humanity.
Photo: The Other Richard
God of Carnage is at the Lyric Hammersmith from 1st until 30th September 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch director Nicholai La Barrie speak about the show here: