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Adults behaving badly - Review of 'God of Carnage'

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

When two 11-year-olds get into an altercation that results in one of the boys having two teeth knocked out, you would expect the parents to resolve the matter in an ‘adult’ manner.

Ariyon Bakare, Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil and Freema Agyeman in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard
Ariyon Bakare, Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil and Freema Agyeman in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard

But 'God of Carnage', an Olivier and Tony award-winning play by French playwright Yasmina Reza, sees the interaction between the parents played out with unpredictable results.


Set in a living room scene, we meet parents Veronica and Michael Novak (played by Freema Agyeman and Martin Hutson), and Annette and Alan Raleigh (played by Dinita Gohil and Ariyon Bakare).


The Raleighs meet at the Novaks’ house to thrash out why 11-year-old Ferdinand Raleigh would knock out Bruno Novak's two incisors. Their interaction soon descends into carnage.


Ego and emotion

What I liked about this play was seeing how ego and emotion can turn an initially civilised interaction between four adults into scenes of childish behaviour.


I thought Freema’s character pulled that off well. She first appears as an exquisitely modest woman, whose interest in human rights in parts of Africa, and high art, suggest she is cultured and empathetic.


And yet, by the end of the play some of her behaviour towards others in the scene, particularly her husband, made me revise that perception pretty quickly.

Freema Agyeman and Matin Hutson in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmi
Freema Agyeman and Matin Hutson in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard

I found the characters believable. Who hasn’t lived or worked with a workaholic like Alan, who cannot seem to exist without his mobile phone? Or with someone like Michael, whose extra-loud voice and hyper personality makes him seem highly strung.

Martin Hutson and Ariyon Bakare in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard
Martin Hutson and Ariyon Bakare in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard

This play shone a light on human nature in all its glory – raw, unfiltered, and at times quite toxic.


What I thought worked well was how the power dynamics between the two couples evolved throughout the play. We watched as couples who initially seemed solid at the beginning started to bicker, allowing cracks in their relationships to be capitalised by their rivals.


We also witnessed how the couples were willing to betray their partners and form alliances with their rivals based on gender (wives versus husbands), or shared belief systems - just to prove a point.


Time ran away from me with this play. We were advised that there would be no breaks during the 90-minute performance and despite there being no obvious scene changes, the play kept pace and the dialogue was engaging.

Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil, Ariyon Bakare and Freema Agyeman in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard
Martin Hutson, Dinita Gohil, Ariyon Bakare and Freema Agyeman in God of Carnage at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre © The Other Richard

I loved how the minimal and seemingly static living room scene defied my eyes by incrementally rotating during the play. I kept thinking....I swear the smaller lampshade was to the left of the stage but it's right in the middle now - what's going on?


The beauty of this creative design was you didn't immediately notice the movement because the dialogue during the play was so engaging.


My only criticism was Michael’s use of a racial slur that comes up towards the end of the play. I understand that this play was about the decline of civility, but was it necessary to include the slur and what did it add to the play?


If you’re interested in seeing the performance for yourself, the play is on at Lyric Theatre Hammersmith in London until 30 September 2023.


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