God of Carnage @ The Gate Theatre

February 21, 2011

There’s a laugh a minute contained within Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, which runs at the Gate Theatre until the end of March. While not the worst thing in the world it means that when all is said and done anything the play might have to say about the struggle between ones intellect and ones instinct, the battle of the sexes and the ruinous effect of its remnants-the children- is swept up in the gales of laughter.

Two sets of parents meet to discuss an altercation between their spawn, an act of violence, which has resulted in the loss of two incisors. Polite discourse gives way to distemper before out and out war erupts, although you can never be to sure between whom the altercation exits so often do the boundaries shift. As spousal, sexual and ideological alignments are formed and quickly broken, drink is imbibed, insides expelled and clothing is removed as facades fall, tongues loosen and the truth wins out.

Veronica (Donna Dent) is an irksome liberal idealist who wants a genuine apology from the son of Alan (Ardal O Hanlon) and Annette (Maura Tierney) for the damage he inflicted on their child. Alan, a lawyer who regularly takes calls mid sentence to partake in a corporate cover up, says such an apology is impossible, as the child wouldn’t mean in it. Veronica insists the child should mean it and around and around we go as Annette and Veronica’s husband Michael (Owen Roe) try to find a middle ground or lighten the mood. Veronica’s strident nagging and Alan’s Teflon tactics eventually wear their partners down, and as the search for an apology gives way to the assignation of blame their derisive about face stirs the pot even more.

It’s amusing stuff but it never breaks the skin as a combination of the Gate’s chronic casting of the same (seemingly one) character actors and their habitual hard on for humor means that despite their often delightful delivery of the text they never evoke what lies beneath. Yasmina Reza has griped in the past that her work is bastardised when played for laughs and here there is no sense of the tragedy that has lead to four people winding up in two unhappy marriages. “The shitty slope” Roe claims the kids have perched them on is a product of the environment they were raised and while the characters do seem unfeeling, monstrous even, you never believe that once the house lights fade that two actual marriages exist. You can’t imagine them sitting around a dinner table, helping (or not) with homework or living out non-farcical situations. It’s more a case of four actors latching onto lines and furnishing them with great gusto but little forethought.

There is an overly literal reading of the lines, with Donna Dent in particular hitting every syllable, drowning the music of Hampton’s text out with her rigid diction, while Owen Roe, whose character is the best realised, could have made his earlier slips of the mask a little clearer so that when he reveals his barbaric tendencies it would be all the more unsettling. Maura Tierney seems like an intelligent actress and makes some nice, subtle choices but she is completely out of place opposite Dent and Roe, for whom big is best. Ardal O Hanlon meanwhile is a bit of a goose egg. He does nothing at all of note.

This is a typical Gate comedy about the middle class, for the middle class. It never rocks the boat and is pleasantly put together. Director Alan Stanford ensures the pace never slackens, creates some nice stage pictures and, as is the norm for Cavendish Row, has impressive production values (set design Eileen Diss, costumes by Joan O’Cleary, lighting Paul Keogan). You’ll laugh a lot and given the early start (7.30) and short running time you won’t be rushing to catch the last bus. But it is further proof of the Irish actors penchant to take a gift part and play it from the mouth.


Mondays & Matinees: €25
Tuesday-Thursday: €32
Friday-Saturday: €35
Students: Mon – Thurs €15


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