Review: God of Carnage, Lyric Hammersmith

Clafouti and chaos! Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage proves evergreen in this expertly cast revival at the Lyric Hammersmith

“You’re exhausting me, these conversation are exhausting”

Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play God of Carnage swept awards on both sides of the Atlantic with its starrily cast productions (Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott; Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden). Nicholai La Barrie’s choice to revive it here at the Lyric Hammersmith pays off well with a cannier approach to casting which, in some ways, revisits some of the dynamics of the play but in others, reinforces Reza’s insight.

Helicopter parents Veronica and Michael have invited power couple Annette and Alan over to discuss a schoolyard incident which saw one of their 11 year old sons knock the front teeth out of the other. There’s great pretence at politeness between them all but it doesn’t take long for the adults in the room to start behaving far worse than their children apparently did, pretensions of married middle-class civility quickly forgotten as the alcohol starts flowing, near-hysteria spews forth and the couples turn on each other, and also in on themselves, with vicious abandon.

Played out in a single space on Lily Arnold’s showroom-perfect slow-revolving set, this is a lacerating four-hander that really puts marriage (and a hamster) under the spotlight as the rules of engagement constantly change, politeness easily sacrificed for cheap point scoring, marital loyalty challenged by tensions rearing their head. You need to forgive a contrivance or so (would anyone really bring the rum out at that point?) but La Barrie’s production spirals pacily and brilliantly so you barely notice.

Freema Agyeman is perfection as passive-aggressive virtuoso Veronica, her priorities so in the wrong place yet still the one most devoted to resolving the situation with their sons and Martin Hutson is hilarious as her husband Michael, teetering on canyons of despair – their interplay is a masterclass in tiny details speaking volumes. Ariyon Bakare and Dinita Gohil explore the different, but no less tense dynamics in the marriage between Alan and Annette, him being glued to his phone somewhat prescient to this day and age. Short and sharp, and deceptive in the way it suggests deep philosophical discussion are imminent, it insteads just laughs at what fools we be when pushed to extremes.

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Photos: The Other Richard
God of Carnage is booking at the Lyric Hammersmith until 30th September

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