God of Carnage

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

04/04/2009 - 09/05/2009

Production Details

The NEW ZEALAND (and Australasian) PREMIERE of Yasmina Reza’s latest hit comedy, GOD of CARNAGE opens at CIRCA THEATRE on Saturday 4th APRIL at 8pm, and runs until 2 May.

A fizzy new satire on spoilt middle-class couples from the sharp pen of the author of the phenomenally successful international hit comedy ART, GOD of CARNAGE played to packed houses at the Gielgud Theatre in 2008 and proved one of the most successful plays in the history of West End theatre.

It has just opened in New York, with a star-studded cast, on Broadway, and the recently announced BEST COMEDY at the 2009 Olivier Awards was the icing on the cake!

With the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland Theatre Companies all programming the play for later this year, GOD of CARNAGE is hot property! But Wellington audiences will have the chance to see it first.


What happens when two sets of parents meet up to deal with the unruly behaviour of their children?

Little Ferdinand has whacked his playmate Bruno with a stick, breaking two teeth. Now it’s time for the adults to intervene.

Michel and Veronique are genial hosts. Alain and Annette are gracious guests.  But passions are seething beneath the benign exterior, and it’s not long before the thin veneer of civilised politeness starts to crack.

A hysterical, funny night of name-calling, tantrums and tears before bedtime featuring Reza’s incisive observation, acerbic wit and deliciously shrewd humour, GOD of CARNAGE has been described as "a scintillating satire with a guiltily pleasurable knife-edge balance between laughter and slaughter" and "easily her best since ART" (which played to full houses for six years on the West End).

As with her other plays, for GOD of CARNAGE Yasmina Reza again teamed up with noted playwright Christopher Hampton (Liaisons Dangereuses, Atonement (screenplay)) who writes the English versions of her extraordinarily successful, sophisticated comedies. The resulting 90 minutes of delightfully funny entertainment was greeted by roars of laughter in London …

"Reza is an expert analyst of social hypocrisy… rancidly funny ..full of delights" – The Guardian

"An expert piece of stagecraft and savagely funny" – 
Int’l Herald Tribune
"Terrific stuff." 
- Daily Mail

"Incredibly funny"  – BBC

"A triumph!  Brilliantly translated by Christopher Hampton"  – Daily Express

Starring : Andrew Foster, Carmel McGlone, Carol Smith, Jeffrey Thomas.

With Set Design: John Hodgkins, Lighting Design: Phillip Dexter, Costume Design: Bonne Becconsall

Proud sponsor: CHRIS FINLAYSON 


4th April – 2nd May
$20 SPECIALS – Friday 3rd April – 8pm;   Sunday 5th April – 4pm.
AFTER SHOW FORUM – Tuesday 7th April
Performance times:
Tuesday & Wednesday 6.30pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8pm; Sunday 4pm 
Ticket Prices:
Adults – $38; Concessions – $30; Friends of Circa – $28; Under 25s – $20;           Groups 6+ – $32
BOOKINGS: Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992  www.circa.co.nz   


Veronique Vallon:  CARMEL McGLONE
Michel Vallon:  ANDREW FOSTER
Annette Reille:  CAROL SMITH

Set Designed by JOHN HODGKINS
Lighting Design by PHILLIP DEXTER
Costume Design by BONNE BECCONSALL

Stage Manager:  Eric Gardiner
Operator:  Cameron Lithgow
Sound:  Ben Sinclair, Ross Jolly
Publicity:  Claire Treloar
Graphic Design:  Rose Miller, Toolbox Creative
Photography:             Stephen A'Court
House Manager:  Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office:  Linda Wilson  

1hr 30 mins

Ghastly people behaving badly

Review by Lynn Freeman 16th Apr 2009

French writer Yasmina Reza (Art) is a superstar in the international theatre world, and this play has one a coveted Olivier Best Comedy Award on London’s West End.  Her trademark razor sharp satire (remember the acerbic Art?) has flattened into more of a broad farce in God of Carnage.

Initially we have two respectable couples rationally discussing what to do after the 11 year old son of Annette (Carol Smith) and Alain (Jeffrey Thomas) has smacked a playmate in the mouth with a stick.  That happens to be the son of Veronique (Carmel McGlone) and Michel Vallon (Andrew Foster). 

Very quickly we realize the veneer of respectability is wafer thin.  Fuelled by different views on parenting, mutual dislike, alcohol and a bit of poorly aimed vomit, the couples find themselves at war.  Sometimes it’s couple vs couple, sometimes men vs women, sometimes it’s just a chaotic free for all.

Under Jolly’s direction three of the actors go for broke as the farce really kicks in, but Thomas stays pretty much at one level and that causes some unevenness in the feel of the production.  Foster, uncharacteristically irritating, is like a big puppy dog on stage who you just want to tell to sit.

Carmel McGlone’s performance goes from heightened to off the scale but most of the time she carries it off.   Smith is the most successful at being OTT yet still somehow almost likeable and believable. 

For all its cleverness, and it is that, we are stuck for 90 minutes with four ghastly people behaving badly, yelling at or being sarcastic to each other.  It’s tiresome. Christopher Hampton’s translation from the French feels clumsy at times which doesn’t help, frankly.

For all its commentary on the hypocrisy of parents who don’t practice what they preach, and the hypocrisy of the well-heeled who throw themselves into ’causes’ they know nothing about to make themselves feel good, and even the obscenity of greedy pharmaceutical companies, it feels rather hollow.  It’s funny enough, 14 years on from Art, God of Carnage is not a patch on her earlier work.  
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Revelatory farce

Review by John Smythe 06th Apr 2009

Back in 2001 The Guardian‘s Simon Hattenstone wrote: "I hated Art and Life x 3, and the more I talk to Reza the more I realise why. Reza sits at the top table of the very odious community she condemns. Her plays are the perfect fodder for the chattering classes she claims to despise."

I take issue with this on a number of levels. First, if she is holding the proverbial mirror up to herself and her peers, she is fulfilling her basic function as a playwright. Good plays are not about good people behaving well (although the third scenario in Life x 3 – produced by Circa in 2002 – does succeed in dramatising such behaviour because it is such a welcome contrast to the two prior versions).

Second, if Reza is as flawed as her characters, so what? Where is it written that playwrights must be perfect before they may satirise human foibles? If she is having a go at herself as well as us, even better. Given the proposition that certain groups – Afro-Americans, Jews, Māori, Samoans, etc – are more entitled than others to send themselves up (where those ‘others’ would be called racist if they did the same thing), Reza is especially entitled and qualified to write as she does about her own kind.

In the end what matters is not the artist but the artefact they have created and how, in the case of theatre, it is re-created by other artists. And God of Carnage – both on the page and on the stage in this excellent Circa production – is a cruelly whimsical comedy that builds into farce as, according to what has become Reza’s formula, it foregrounds one small incident against a ‘big issues’ background.

In Life x 3 Reza used a child’s nocturnal desire for a biscuit, a laddered stocking, and a couple’s turning up 24 hours early for a dinner party, as the catalysts for human behaviour that reduced to domestic dimensions the cosmological question: Do we drive our own destinies by behaving according to choices we make from a position of real control or are we mere particles bouncing about in the energy field of some larger force that’s oblivious to our tiny concerns?

In God of Carnage, a playground act of apparently wilful violence involving two 11 year-old boys brings their parents together to sort it out "in a civilised manner". This, plus the dilemma of dealing with an ailing elderly mother and the question of whether a pet hamster can truly be liberated into an alien urban environment, is set against the bigger background issues of a multi-national pharmaceutical company seeking to minimise legal responsibility while maximising profits, and the civil war in the Darfur province of Sudan, as a timeless example of man’s inhumanity to man.

Hattenstone’s complaint (re Art and Life x 3) that her "mighty cerebral subjects are simply conceits, showy props" could also be applied to God of Carnage, but I don’t think Reza is playing the ‘micro/macro’ game in quite the same way as Michael Frayn, for example, explores the ‘uncertainty principle’ in Copenhagen. She is simply drawing a parallel – in the first instance – between the ‘child chauvinism’ of parents and the blind ‘patriotism’ corporate lawyers have for their clients, and tribal groups have when threatened by rival tribes.

The father of Ferdinand (who broke Bruno’s teeth with a stick) is urbane corporate lawyer Alain Reville. Succinctly distilled by Jeffrey Thomas, he is ruthlessly protective of his pharmaceutical company client – via constantly intrusive mobile phone calls – in the face of looming questions about the safety of one of their products. He also believes "the God of Carnage has ruled since the dawn of time", that forming gangs and fighting the inevitable ‘wars’ that ensue are a natural part of growing up, and that self interest is the only thing that drives any of our actions.

The deeply concerned mother of Bruno is Veronique Vallon, superbly captured by Carmel McGlone. A writer whose current focus is the carnage in Darfur, she claims to "stand up for civilisation"; to be "a supporter of peace and stability in the world", as she doggedly pursues her quest to get Ferdinand to apologise to Bruno. It is rum, however, that strips her veneer.

Her husband Michael, a self-made trader in domestic hardware whose constantly phoning ailing mother is taking the suddenly suspect drug, is either the liberator or murderer of his daughter’s hamster. He is played with engaging vacillation by Andrew Foster as he tries to maintain some degree of self-protecting equilibrium amid the mounting chaos.

Alain’s wife Annette, mother of Ferdinand, is in ‘wealth management’ and, as manifested by Carol Smith, her transition from sophisticated manager of reasoned negotiations to toxic shocker (you have to see it to know what I mean) is a comedic ‘tour-de-farce’. 

Directed by Ross Jolly – in a metallic ‘designer abode’ that resonates loudly when required (again you have to be there), lit by Phillip Dexter with stylish costumes by Bonne Becconsall – the quality of the ensemble acting is equal and opposite to the disintegration of the characters’ inter-relationships as the veneer of serious domestic drama gives way to amusing comedy-of-insight before suppurating into revelatory farce.

Thus, as we confront the question of whether resolution could ever be possible regarding what the boys have done, we are invited to consider the wider implications, e.g. for the victims of dodgy pharmaceutical companies and small countries mired in the serial atrocities of civil war. If it has a message beyond its satirical critique, then, God of Carnage operates effectively at a ‘think globally, act locally’ level.  

Christopher Hampton’s translation retains a number of curiously Gallic locutions and Reza is on record as saying although she is not fluent enough to write in English, she would word things quite differently in English.* It seems a shame that when English theatre’s A-list writers get a tidy income from translating foreign plays and adapting / re-versioning classics, that this text could not be more fluid and fluent.

It also needs to be noted, without giving too much of the show away, that it is a theatrical contrivance on Reza’s part for Alain not to step into another room to take his vexatious business calls, as most people would, even if only when their partner demands it. It’s a small detail but then they are the lifeblood of Reza’s plays and, as written, this one does compromise credibility.

Nevertheless Circa’s top-drawer cast and production team transcend all impediments to deliver ninety-minutes of great entertainment that can be as deep and meaningful as you choose it to be.
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*Reza in interview with The Independent’s Alice Jones, March 2008:
"There are lots of words and phrases that I more or less invent, which in English are so flat, so poor. If – and I’m totally incapable of doing it – I could write directly in English, I would never write in the way the translations are written. As soon as I see a translation in English, I suffer. And Christopher suffers too – I make him suffer."  
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Savage comedy amid the carnage

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 06th Apr 2009

A hit in Zurich, Paris, London and New York, where it opened only two weeks ago, God of Carnage, a boulevard comedy about the savagery that lies beneath the veneer of civilized behaviour, looks set to become a hit in Wellington too, if the reaction of the opening night’s audience is anything to go by.

Veronique and Michel Vallon have invited Annette and Alain Reille to discuss in a civilized way an incident that occurred between their two sons: 11 year-old Bruno Reille armed (or was he ‘furnished’, as his lawyer father suggests?) with a stick knocked out two of Ferdinand’s teeth.

The ensuing meeting over coffee and clafouti and later, with predictably disastrous results, rum finds these four members of the haute bourgeoisie, enclosed in the fashionable red metallic but imprisoning walls of the Vallon’s home, are as prey to the dangers of the world as the pet hamster belonging to the Vallon’s daughter that Michel deliberately released on a busy street.

These educated people of good will start off prepared to do the right thing, but fissures appear and the husbands find themselves disagreeing with their wives and vice versa as well as changing partners in the war of attrition that ensues.  They discover, as one of them says, "We’re always on our own" and after a hilarious melee Alain announces that ‘the God of Carnage has ruled us since the dawn of time.’

Yasmina Reza tinkers with these well-worn ideas but the real pleasure of the 90-minute play comes from seeing the actors filling out their thin characters and then ripping them apart to make us laugh at the awfulness and pettiness of human behaviour.

Jeffrey Thomas, as the shady, surly lawyer, forever on his cell phone and carefully defining the meaning of words, and Carol Smith as his wife attempting to grab the bottle of rum or outraged at her handbag being flung across the room are very funny.

So too are Andrew Foster as Michel, though in his big scene he overplays his hand a bit, and Carmel McGlone in devastating comic form as Veronique. She starts as a sophisticated, smartly dressed hostess but ends looking like a distraught scarecrow. Human beings in extremis can be tragic or comic; here the comedy is scintillating.
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