Convincing performances in raw play at Coventry theatre

God of Carnage, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry, March 25.
God of Carnage at the Criterion theatre in Coventry.God of Carnage at the Criterion theatre in Coventry.
God of Carnage at the Criterion theatre in Coventry.

In God of Carnage, Yazmina Reza takes a scalpel to the thin veneer of civilisation evident in an expansive (and expensive) conservatory in a desirable part of west London. The resulting, well, carnage is not a pretty sight. There are times when it’s excruciating to watch, the embarrassment only eased by the bleak humour seeping from the sight of two affluent couples being reduced to savagery – initially at least by the issue that they have come together to resolve amicably. By the end it’s not so much couple against couple, but wife against husband as relationships as well as pretensions are laid bare.

Veronica and Michael Fenton have invited Alan and Annette Garrod to their house to discuss an attack by the Garrods’ son Ferdinand on their son Bruno as a result of which Bruno has lost two front teeth.

The timing was not always perfect on Monday evening. Nonetheless, the performances were convincing enough. Jon Elves was as assured as ever as Alan Garrod, a high-flying lawyer for whom time is money. He manages to convey just the right mixture of menace, arrogance and impatience that he has been dragged into such a trivial dispute at a time when he should be en route to the International Court of Justice in the Hague.

Michael Fenton, played by Trev Clarke, runs an evidently successful business selling toilet fittings, among other household items, and gives the impression of a man who can’t quite understand what’s going on in his own household.

Cathryn Bowler as Veronica Fenton exudes the brittle self-loathing of one if life’s liberals, overtly concerned about affairs in the Sudan while struggling to relate to those around her. Particularly her husband.

Annette Garrod, who is into ‘wealth management’, is nicely played by Annie Gay as a woman struggling to remain civil. In truth she is full of bile. She manages to throw up at one point without giving herself chance to admire the Fentons’ toilet fittings.

All this darkness comes to the fore in a light and airy set, designed by Emma Withers, that makes us feel that we are in the conservatory with them.

The only trouble with Reza’s play is that it feels a bit too much like a sociological experiment, a deconstruction of the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. The characters have few redeeming features. Only those off-stage elicit any sympathy – the lisping Bruno and that ‘little savage’ Ferdinand.

I blame the parents.

Chris Arnot

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