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God of Carnage (Bishop's Stortford)

A brave choice to join Contexture Theatre's season at the Rhodes Arts Complex

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Gailie Pollock, Madeleine Joseph, Simon Anderson & Scott Ainslie
Copyright © 2013 Andrew Macpherson, all rights reserved

If the aim was to show three contrasted facets of the gemstone which is theatre comedy, then Yasmina Reza's searing God of Carnage is a logical, if extremely brave, choice for Contexture's inaugural season at the Rhodes Arts Complex in Bishop's Stortford.

Jonathan Holloway's production, using the curved screen designed by Malvern Hostick which we saw in Blue/Orange as a background, makes no attempt to soften the story or the characters. It all begins quietly, perhaps too much so, and builds in ferocity – rather like a Rossini crescendo.

Two apparently civilised middle-class couples are brought together by a playground assault by the son of one couple on that of the other. An apology is due; perhaps even some form of compensation.

But lawyer Michel (Scott Ainslie) is closer to his mobile phone and a messy damage-limitation issue involving one of his clients than to either his son Ferdinand or his wife Annette (Madeleine Joseph).

Writer and environmental activist Véronique (Gailie Pollock) is naturally but spikily concerned that her son Bruno has lost a couple of teeth.

Her businessman husband Alain (Simon Anderson) takes a rather more laid-back approach to all this. That's his method of coping, as becomes clear as the meeting progresses.

The acting is good, though those vital initial exchanges are perhaps too low-key. The audience's sympathy veers – as Reza and her translator Christopher Hampton intend – just as rapidly from one character to another.

Annette's sudden stress-induced vomiting and the subsequent consumption of rum unleashes conflicts compared to which the playground incident all-but fades away. Yet three off-stage lives are just as affected as those of the two on-stage couples.