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God of Carnage

Friday February 6, 2009 in theatre |

Since the continuing closures and/or deliberate oddness of the Bristol Old Vic, my favourite nearby theatre has become the Theatre Royal at Bath. Last night I braved the elements to see God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza. The play first opened in 2006 and the original West End production starred Ralph Fiennes and Ken Stott. There was a hidden agenda for seeing the new Bath version as I knew one of the cast. Or I thought I did; my friend has mysteriously left the production so no luvvy visits to dressing rooms for me.

No matter. Yasmina Reza is best known for Art, which ran for years in London. God of Carnage, like Art, received the Christopher Hampton treatment in translating it from the original French. A play about the middle classes, the retained French names and references add a certain oddness, or something, to the play. But I won’t say jena se qua. There’s also a stark and nakedly intimate setting, all the more so if, like us, you have almost front row seats.

Richard E Grant and Serena Evans play one middle class couple who visit the house of another middle class couple, Roger Allam and Lia Williams. The Allam’s eleven year old son is recovering from an assault from the Grant’s eleven year old son; he’s has two teeth knocked out in a fight and the four gather in an attempt to make amends. It’s a frosty meeting; Allam and Grant both unlkeable in different ways. Both pompous and annoying, Grant especially so as he takes endless calls on his mobile phone. The women aren’t much better either, and the four hander reveals both couples to be depressed with their bleak and narrow lives.

In Harold Pinter’s hands, God of Carnage would have turned a simple idea into a work of genius. David Hare too would probably have a great deal of fun with this idea. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Mike Leigh achieved far greater results from four adults awkwardly thrown together in Abigail’s Party. Reza’s play, or perhaps Hampton’s handling of it, appears too stagey, and where Pinter always deliberately played with the artificiality of the stage I think this is beyond Reza’s/Hampton’s talent. There are a lot of good moments in God of Carnage, and many laughs, but not of the outstanding kind and I came away thinking the subject matter was all too lightly handled.

As I suspected from the opening, the adults in the play descend to far lower depths of hurt and loss of civility than either of their children. When a desperate bottle of rum is produced the subsequent drunkenness reveals their hidden despair even more. But, cynic that I am, I was hoping for them to have sunk much further than they did, and the play ends with some very slim chance of redemption. Nevertheless, I did find the closing scene the most effective. Worth a look, even if it does mean missing the luvvy stuff.

Footnote: can anyone answer this. Does Richard E.Grant really mean to break his chair when he sits down? He certainly handled the mishap very well, but I didn’t see how it added to proceedings.

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Christmas Ghosts

Thursday December 18, 2008 in charles dickens | theatre

Every Christmas we try to seek out a memorable theatre trip. For the second year running, the award goes to the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. Last year they staged a superb production of Alice Through the Looking Glass. This year they turned their attention to A Christmas Carol.

Chris Bianchi as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

The Tobacco Factory has a small central stage area, flanked on all sides by the audience. Performances are not exactly interactive, although the actors are nevertheless aware of the close proximity of viewers surrounding them. This intimacy suits Dickens’ classic very well.

Andy Burden’s adaptation stars the excellent Chris Bianchi as Scrooge. Also worth mentioning is Felix Hayes, doubling up in a number of roles although most memorably as The Ghost of Christmas Now. Perhaps a role that Brian Blessed was born to play, although Hayes is suitably larger than life (or death) and booming magnificently. This version takes a few liberties with the text. There’s references to Bristol and to Brunel, and Burden, although perhaps wisely, omits the ignorance and want episode. It doesn’t descend into pantomime but it is heavy on humour, with Bianchi garbed in his nightcap and being dragged around the stage on a huge bed by the spectres of Christmas Eve. Even Jacob Marley’s appearance is played mostly for laughs. But when the scares do come, such as the visitation of the silent Ghost of Christmas to Come – dark hooded and stealthily setting out the graves for Scrooge’s final resting place – they’re handled superbly.

Importantly, Dickens’ enduring message isn’t spoilt at all, perhaps even spreading to the very young members of the audience. An excellent festive feast. A Christmas Carol runs until January 18th.

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