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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Gielgud


  Ralph Fiennes/PH: Tristram Kenton

Humankind's more base and venal instincts are graphed to tragicomic effect in God of Carnage, the latest intermissionless slice of life from Yasmina Reza , the author of Art who has yet again come up with a piece that looks primed for travel. (This one's world premiere was in fact late in 2006 in Zurich.) Whether Carnage will be quite the long-running crowd pleaser that was true of the earlier Tony winner at this point is debatable, notwithstanding a London cast consisting of two Tony-laureled thesps (Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer ) and two others with Olivier trophies to their names (Tamsin Greig and Ken Stott , the last-named fondly remembered from the West End debut of Art). Less structurally confidant than its predecessor, and not quite as metaphorically neat, God of Carnage moves on from a debate between three men over an abstract painting to engage two couples in an extended discussion on the rather more universal topic of what we want and think human behavior might be. The answer, perhaps inevitably, is pretty bleak, but the creative team, translator Christopher Hampton and the ubiquitous director Matthew Warchus included, find their share of grit-filled grace notes along the way.

One 11-year-old boy has bashed another one's teeth out in the playground, and the young brute's parents, Fiennes' Alain and Greig's Annette, come guilty to call on the mom and dad of the injured lad - the pro-moderation peacenik, Veronique (McTeer, splendidly filling a part premiered in the Paris version by Isabelle Huppert), and her blustery, blokish husband, Michel (Stott): the sort who doesn't think twice about blow drying a cell phone's SIM card. (I am fundamentally uncouth, is his self-assessment.) While Veronique serves up clafoutis , the foursome shift allegiances and trade perspectives, laying themselves bare in the process. Indeed, the only one of the lot not to change in any significant way is Alain, a lawyer of limited emotional means and a decidedly cool, calculating outlook on life: it is he who gives exact voice to the title in his assertion late on that the god of carnage [has] ruled uninterrupted since the dawn of time. Boys, in other words, will be boys, until the little savages grow up to be men.

The part doesn't represent a huge stretch for Fiennes, even if this often severe actor does get to test his hand at comedy, albeit of a decidedly bitter sort. Playing a lawyer who likes to quote from Le Monde, his character's telephonic tactics involving a pretty dodgy-sounding pharmaceutical firm are rather too patly linked to the phone calls received by the increasingly rancorous Michel from his unseen mother, who turns out to be in need of precisely the same drug that Alain's unscrupulous clients happen to manufacture. Indeed, God of Carnage has to work double-time to keep its foursome in the same red-themed living room for 100 minutes, given that the visiting couple announce pretty early on that it's time to go. (Shades, in their decision to remain, of Samuel Beckett, and his famous they do not move, from Waiting for Godot ). Phones, accordingly, are pressed into narrative overtime, with time out Greig for a bout of projectile vomiting from Greig to delight theatergoers who have been wondering just when the stage will offer up vomit-fueled theatrics to match the likes of Stand By Me. Elsewhere, this gifted actress is pretty consistently overshadowed by the glorious McTeer, who undergoes the play's most substantial journey as a writer who has been busying herself with a book on Darfur only to discover that an existence given over to reason counts for precious little amid a landscape where our innate tendencies are seen to run toward the rude and the rough. Does that mak


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