God of Carnage, Lyric Hammersmith, 2023
Photo: The Other Richard
  • Theatre, Comedy
  • Recommended


God of Carnage

3 out of 5 stars

Slick and punchy revival of Yasmina Reza’s ‘00s phenomenon comedy


Time Out says

Yasmina Reza’s ‘God of Carnage’ is a quintessential ‘00s artefact, up there with MySpace, ‘The Wire’ and the first Strokes album.

It’s one of two massive, global hits enjoyed by the French polymath, following on from her gargantuan ‘90s smash ‘Art’.

The original, Matthew Warchus-directed, English-language productions of both plays were so of a piece with their eras that neither has had a major revival up to this point (the original ’90s production of ‘Art’ came back a few years ago and felt… dated).

I imagine Reza would probably write ‘God of Carnage’ a little differently today. But Nicholai la Barrie’s first revival is a very fair production, that adds a few subtle, modern touches without trying to actually get away from the essence of the writing.

Reza’s story concerns two middle-class couples who are meeting to (in theory) politely discuss the fact that the son of Alan (Ariyon Bakare) and Annette (Dinita Gohil) recently used a big stick to knock out a couple of the teeth of the son of Veronica (Freema Agyeman) and Michael (Martin Hutson).

It is, in many ways, an exquisitely wrought study in passive aggression. If the couples were a little happier in themselves, the play would end after five minutes. However. Under her ostentatiously cheerful facade, bougie writer Veronica is clearly seething, both at the incident and her feckless husband Michael, whose superficially practical exterior conceals both a craven lack of backbone and a blithe selfishness that has just led to him disposing of their son’s annoying hamster and lying to him about it. Alan is a high-powered lawyer, welded to his phone, with an at-best detached view of the situation in hand. And then there’s the largely decent Annette, who works in ‘wealth management’ and who manages to be reasonable… until it seems to be implied that the effort of doing so makes her physically sick.

What La Barrie’s revival – which has a brilliant so-tasteful-it’s-a-bit-creepy revolving set from Lily Arnold – captures well is the inherent falseness of all four characters. That’s not necessarily a value judgement. But they’ve put themselves in a situation they don’t want to be in, in order to almost roleplay what they think responsible adults ought to be doing. But none of them wants to be doing it, and a series of farcical mishaps drags out their encounter until they reach their collective breaking point and go feral. Reva’s nihilistic thesis – as later drunkenly expounded by Alan - is that this is all society is: selfish people kidding themselves they’re acting wisely.

But is it still funny? For the most part: yes! Erstwhile Doctor Who assistant Agyeman is particularly good as the tightly wound Veronica, whose liberal, bohemian impulses are forever struggling with her towering sense of rage. But all four are excellent, and each – with the possible exception of Gohil’s more relatable Annette – encapsulates a different shade of human selfishness.

It’s lost some of its teeth: post-‘Clybourne Park’, post-‘Fleabag’, it simply doesn’t feel outrageous anymore. Humour has moved on. Some of the characters’ preoccupations feel a bit dated. It feels like good satire rather than brilliant satire. 

The diverse casting in a show that used to be all but a byword for whiteness is interesting. On the one hand, it’s dragging the play forward while challenging the implicit notion that middle class equals white. On the other, it makes some of the lines land differently: in particular the white Michael using a racial slur that could be applied to his wife greatly increases our sense of sympathy for Veronica, and reduces the sense of them being complicit in each other’s behaviour.

‘God of Carnage’ has had its day as a global phenomenon. But it’s still worth a revival, and it’s hard to imagine that Reza’s nihilistic but – let’s be honest – bang-on observations on human selfishness will ever lose their relevance.


£10-£44. Runs 1hr 30min
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