Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

The war of Bruno’s teeth

carnage cast

Liz Webster as Annette, Phil Palmer as Alain, his mobile phone as himself, Eléna Serafinas as Veronique and David Weller as Michel in rehearsal

God of Carnage

Highbury Players

Highbury Theatre Centre


FERDINAND Reille, aged 11, has knocked out two of 11-year-old Bruno Vallon’s teeth with a stick in a children’s squabble in a Paris park.

So the Reilles, Annette and Alain, are invited by the Vallon’s, Veronique and Michel, to an uncomfortable tea-party to discuss the matter in a civilised manner – at least that is the theory.

But in Yasmina Reza’s 2006 play it seems civility is held together by very fragile threads as the meeting descends into a level of name calling, irrational argument and shouting and screaming that even the most delinquent children would be hard pushed to match.

As the grown-up, civilised meeting starts, with both sets of parents defending their sons, there is perhaps a hint of what is to come when Alain, a corporate lawyer, played by Phil Palmer, objects to the term “armed” with a stick in a statement of fact being prepared by photographer and writer Veronique, with “furnished” being an acceptable alternative.

As to why Veronique, played by Eléna Serafinas, is typing a statement in the first place? An indication of her fussiness in wanting everything just so perhaps? As a non-drinker she has the dubious distinction of the only one managing hysteria without the assistance of alcohol as the meeting heads south.

Annette, played by Liz Webster, is in wealth management, the look from Alain suggesting it is his wealth she is managing, and also manages to drift from reasonable conciliator to rabid pitbull as the meeting goes on, aided by a liberal contribution of 15-year-old rum.

Michel, played by David Weller, has his own wholesale business selling household hardware, and starts as the understanding, children will be children, all friends together fMichel and Alainather, almost effusive at first, before heading his own bandwagon on its own random journey.

We discover as time goes on that the meeting was far from his idea and he was merely "recruited" by Veronique.

The cast of four pace the changing faces of their characters beautifully. Palmer's Alain makes it more than obvious he does not want to be there and has much more important things to do.

In rehearsal: The fathers Michel and Alain, two men who really did not want the parental meeting

You can feel his frustration at being trapped in a pointless meeting and his thumbs must hurt from his constant texting. The constant phone calls he is receiving about a dodgy pharmaceutical firm client is his only concern. Indeed his mobile, work and clients are more important than not only the meeting, but also home, wife and family – which in an age of City excesses is all too recognisable.

Eléna Serafinas’s Veronique wants everything to be just right, ‘I’s dotted, ‘T’s crossed, although we are never quite sure what she wants beyond Ferdinand realising what he has done and some form of punishment. She glories in a social conscience, wanting what is right for Bruno . . . and the poor in Africa.

Then there is Liz Webster’s Annette, prim and proper, the perfect sophisticated wife of a successful international lawyer, that is until she throws up all over the coffee table and Veronique’s precious art books – a nice touch of simple yet effective special effects incidentally. Her projectile vomiting is just the start of the bile which she is about to unleash.

Veronique’s reaction and repulsion as she cleans up are a picture as Michel fusses about trying to smooth things over – and dry out vomit splattered art volumes with a hair dryer.

Annette then proceeds to become tired and emotional as a newt as she works her way through Michel’s rum. Portraying drunks with any authenticity is one of the more difficult techniques on stage. You need an inebriate trying to act sober rather than a sober person pretending to be drunk.

Too often it ends up as pantomime drunks falling about with slurred speech which might work in farce but in a drama, even one laced with comedy, it needs to be more subtle and she manages it in some style as she gets the knives out for her husband, and indeed anyone else, in a screaming finale.

Alain there under protest, shows his impatience and disdain some lovely looks and glances while the other three slowly change stances, attitudes and alliances from couples to men against women, woman against woman, man against man as the arguments range through hamsters, the place of women, schoolboy gangs, hints of racial prejudice with the battle of the stick and missing teeth long forgotten.

There is a simple, clean set of a modern Paris flat from director Nigel Higgs and Malcolm Roberts and Higgs, with his director’s hat on, has kept up not only a good pace but brought out some lovely gestures and looks from his cast to add a touch of realism to proceedings.

The original English translation production in 2008 won the Olivier award for best comedy, whether it really is a comedy or drama with laughs is debatable, but it certainly has a good quota of humour with the quartet squeezing every ounce of fun out a situation which makes you cringe at times but always stays the right side of believable.

The title is perhaps not its best friend, as seen by a sparse opening night - perhaps it means more in the original French, Le Dieu du carnage - but don’t let a somewhat esoteric name put you off trying a fine production. To 23-05-15.

Roger Clarke


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