In an alternative world where I have significantly more money, I’d buy a house in Barnes. It’s an idyllic part of West London, just along the river from bustling Hammersmith but with a village-y feel, complete with duck pond. It’s around this pond that I strolled, after a delicious pub dinner in The Sun Inn, to the OSO Arts Centre. A small bar, open an hour before the show begins, looks like a friendly spot to sip a pre-show tipple.
God of Carnage is a painful show. It’s painfully funny, accurate and cringeworthy. We meet Veronique (Rosie Edwards) and Michel (Luke Mazzamuto) in their French home. They’ve invited fellow parents Alain (Malcolm Jeffries) and Anette (Emily Outred) over to discuss an incident between their sons at school. The conversation starts off quite civil, as they try to establish the facts and how best to resolve this delicate issue. But it all soon descends into a farce.
This is a very funny show, the kind of humour that makes you gasp, snigger and occasionally guffaw. Yasmina Reza’s script is a masterclass in observational comedy, perfectly capturing the awkwardness of the situation unfolding. The physical humour and reactions from the cast are just as brilliant, but beware, if in the front row you might find the contents of a handbag, or worse, strewn around your feet as the tension starts to boil over. The size of the venue contributes to the sheer awkward brilliance of the play, characters sitting just a metre away but oblivious to the audience. Yet as an audience member it offers the opportunity to laugh in a situation where laughter would be the worst possible thing you could do.
The cast are all faultless, they carry the play with such energy and raw emotion that you really do feel as though they’re your own acquaintances and you’re having a particularly cringe-inducing afternoon. Whether it be Alain’s constant work calls on his mobile or Veronique’s sheer panic when her precious art books are destroyed by some rogue vomit (yes, I did warn you about sitting in the front row), the dynamic is deliciously awkward and believable.
Set-wise, things are kept simple, and from the angle of my seat most of the backdrop isn’t quite visible. Props are used effectively, such as the Clafoutis that is Veronique’s pride and joy (the secret is the gingerbread crumbs) and the tulips, brought in specially for the occasion, that end up all over the floor as the tension mounts. This play doesn’t need extravagant design or effects to make it work, it is the script and cast that carry the performance and make it such a joy to watch. If you’re on the fence about having children, this may just tip you into the “no thanks” group, as you ponder the fractious relationships many groups of parents must have when their children quarrel. Behind all the laughter there is an unpleasant truth to God of Carnage, it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to believe that behind these idyllic front doors in Barnes, parents find themselves at loggerheads, chucking tulips at one another.
Written by: Yasmina Reza
Translated by: Christopher Hampton
Directed by: Jason Moore
Produced by: OSO Arts Centre and OnBook Theatre
God Of Carnage plays at OSO Arts Centre until 26 February. Further information about this production and other work by OnBook Theatre can be found via their website here.