God of Carnage

Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Neil Cooper

Four stars

When boys and girls come out to play in Yasmina Reza’s lacerating comedy of (bad) manners, you just know someone is going to get hurt. It’s not the actual children who cause the damage in Reza’s play, relocated to bourgeois des-res London in Christopher Hampton’s deft translation, first seen in 2008. Rather, it’s the two sets of increasingly desperate mums and dads who convene in an attempt at conflict resolution after their respective 11-year-old sons have what they probably wouldn’t call a square-go when one wouldn’t let the other join his gang.

Boys will be boys and all, but as Lindsay Posner’s touring revival, originating from the Theatre Royal, Bath, lays bare, it’s pretty easy to blame the parents when they’re as ghastly as the quartet presented here. Elizabeth McGovern’s Veronica is initially charm itself as she and Nigel Lindsay’s rough diamond Michael hold court with Alan and Annette, whose little darling seemingly did the damage.

Lawyer Alan’s spectacular self-importance manifests itself in a series of mobile phone calls, which, as disseminated through Simon Paisley Day’s portrayal of a sneering Alan, become a kind of commentary on the unadulterated dishonesty on public and private discourse. Samantha Spiro’s Annette, meanwhile, lives on her nerves enough to break the ice of social politesse in explosive fashion.

As the rum-fuelled stakes are raised ever higher on Peter McIntosh’s exquisitely tasteful set, what emerges out of four fine performances is a well-tuned portrait of domestic grotesquery that is a near neighbour to both Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? These are both plays, like Reza’s, driven in different ways by children. Here, however, the sparring is given a sheen of lightness, so any manic tendencies give way to the ennui of intellectual incomprehension at their lot. In the end, the sheer everyday awfulness of human behaviour can be glimpsed through the cracked veneer of civilisation to expose the inherent ugliness within.