Gielgud Theatre, London W1
Yasmina Reza’s latest play had got into full swing before it happened.
This was the author’s first West End offering since the hugely successful Art. The French playwright’s new comedy has the same producer (David Pugh), the same director (Matthew Warchus), and the same translator (Christopher Hampton) as that monster hit. It also has a stellar cast: Ralph Fiennes and Tamsin Greig play Alain and Annette, the parents of an 11-year-old boy who assaulted the son of Veronique and Michel, played by Ken Stott (another Art veteran) and Janet McTeer.
So for a power cut to cause the lights to go out during such a big West End opening is, in the context of first night glitches, disastrous. Up until then, there was much in Reza’s play that seemed familiar. Her comedy Life x 3, which examined the structure of the universe, also revolved around two couples and witnessed the disintegration of etiquette.
This time the disintegration represents nothing less than the fragility of Western civilisation. No one can accuse Reza of a lack of ambition with her themes. In God of Carnage, down-to-earth businessman Michel and his idealistic wife Veronique have invited Fiennes’s coldly analytical Alain and Greig’s neurotic Annette to explain their son’s violent behaviour.
For Veronique, talking is the way that we, in the civilised West, solve our differences. The alternative is to descend into the barbarity of Darfur, about which she has just written a book.
Her “moral compass” is sent spinning by Fiennes’s cynical Alain — a corporate and human rights lawyer whose experience with atrocities in the Congo leads him to believe in the title’s God of carnage.
Fissures in both marriages emerge; allegiances shift. The men briefly bond in macho admiration over their sons’ behaviour. The women find temporary common ground over their husband’s immaturity. Though the result echoes Ayckbourn and Albee, Reza still proves to be a forensic and funny observer of middle-class hypocrisies and attitudes. After a break, the dimly lit cast battled on through the power cut. Proof, it seemed, of Alain’s point — that we are only a hair’s breadth away from a civilisation’s breakdown. (Tel: 0870 950 0915)