A crisis can unite a family - or tear it apart. In Yasmina Reza’s new play, an 11-year-old boy has hit another boy in the face with a stick. So the culprit’s parents, Alain and Annette (Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig), come over to visit the victim’s parents, Michel and Veronique (Ken Stott and Janet McTeer). But what starts out as a civilised chat about how children should behave gradually escalates into a slanging match ruled over by the god of carnage. In the process, both families suffer.
After more than a decade, God of Carnage reunites the creative team responsible for Art, Reza’s 1996 smash hit. Christopher Hampton’s smooth and colloquial translation achieves a fine balance between aggression and humour while director Matthew Warchus and designer Mark Thompson stage the play in a finely realised chic Parisian apartment, with its bright-red walls a foretaste of the high emotions to come.
Leading the stellar cast is Stott, himself as veteran of Art. Here he goes from an avuncular tolerance to a raging, bullish violence that is both hilarious and tragic. Equally impressive are McTeer and Greig, who gradually shed their restraint to become as aggressive as their menfolk. Less satisfying is Fiennes, whose forte lies in portraying the agonised individual, whereas here he is cast as a coolly detached corporate lawyer.
Although this production has plenty of laughs, it is also a bit of a disappointment. Reza’s play begins with a well-judged exposition, and casts an amused and critical eye over these two bourgeois marriages, but its climax never delivers the promised feast of carnage. Because Reza seldom allows her characters to really let loose, the play’s content feels banal and deja vu. Amusing? Yes, okay. Especially insightful? No, not really.