Good, boisterous fun, but a lack of commitment to either the play’s outrageousness or its needling urgency frustrates the Tron Theatre’s new production of Yasmina Reza’s award-winning comedy. Probably best known for its starry 2011 film adaptation, God of Carnage concerns the aftermath of a playground confrontation between two wayward schoolboys, which sees both sets of well-to-do parents meeting to discuss the consequences for their respective offspring. As personalities and ideologies clash, this civilised intervention quickly descends into an anarchy that would do the primary-schoolers proud, asking prodding questions about civility, artifice, and how far away any of us are from giving in to our basest instincts.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but God of Carnage is basically God’s gift for actors. With only four characters and action veering from kitchen-sink to catastrophic via all kinds of tears and tantrums, it’s rare that performers get this much room to show off in a running time of little over an hour. Of the Tron’s quartet, Lorraine McIntosh and Richard Conlon are revelatory as highly-strung yuppies Annette and Alain Reille. Out of their comfort-zone in the spotless, Marie Kondo’d household of Michel and Véronique Vallon (Colin McReadie and Anita Vettesse), McIntosh and Conlon gleefully navigate their couple’s progression from barely-veiled impatience to drunken anarchy, hitting every laugh along the way. On the other side of the battle-lines, the Vallons suffer from having a less dramatic fall from grace, their laid-back, middle-class artist vibe giving way to more deeply simmering internal resentments that Vettesse and McCredie don’t always successfully bring into the harsh light of day.
Karen Tennent’s fantastically extravagant set shows the cast dwarfed by their pretentious (the high-ceilings of the Vallons’ Parisian-chic apartment) and surrounded by temptations (a ball-pit moat) resulting in both a gorgeous visual and a gleefully tongue-in-cheek metaphor. Resisting the static setting, Nicholls’ direction is slick and sprightly. Hyena-like, the actors constantly circle each other, with the set mirroring their descent into dysfunction, furniture slowly redeployed around their war-zone like perfectly-coordinated shrapnel.
Everyone is having a jolly good time, cutting loose and jumping in the ball-pit. As the play reaches its denouement however, the Tron’s production seems to swap the ironic bite of Reza’s original text in favour of slapstick. For all of the characters, this bonkers afternoon feels more like a temper-tantrum than a turning-point. With Reza’s cynical pot-shot at Western civilisation arguably more relevant than ever, it would’ve been good to see Nicholls’ production pack more of a topical punch. Even the choice to keep the play in its original Parisian setting – despite working from Hampton’s anglicised script and all the actors keeping their Scottish accents – distances us from the tale. With Glasgow’s own battle of West End nouveau-riche vs. hipster up-and-comers lending itself so easily to the action, it feels like deliberately benign direction to set it elsewhere. For a play literally slathered in mess, in the end this production seems oddly sanitised.
Occupying the same springtime slot as last year’s Cock, God of Carnage shows a similar tendency towards familiar faces and easy laughs. Nothing wrong with that; but it would be nice to see Glasgow’s new writing theatre branch out into more topical fare with its in-house programme, especially considering Nicholls’ tendency towards directing bold, lacerating productions, such as last year’s Trainspotting or Blackbird at the Citizens. God of Carnage is great, stylish fun, but ultimately as forgettable as a playground spat.
God of Carnage is on until 25th March 2017 at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Click here for more details.