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Sidmouth Manor Pavilion Theatre - An Inspector Calls (with James Pellow)

Folks who know me very well often say, kindly I think, that I should get out more. I’m a grumpy old sod at the best of times and in the ...

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The God of Carnage (Dunstable Rep)

My mother was a fierce defender of her kids. A full time job as she had a lot of us. First sniff of bullying and she was up our school quicker than you could say litigation. Not that she used such words. Working class, council estate, sort the little buggers out was her maxim. I reckon she would have been useful to the adult characters of Yasmina Reza’s The God of Carnage. They finish up squabbling much more than the two offstage fisticuff kids who launch and drive the onstage plot. And these parents are middle class and French. The French isn’t relevant, could be anywhere south of Watford, being middle class is. The ostensibly nice and civilised parents of the one bashed about the head with a stick invite the ostensibly nice and civilised parents of the juvenile aggressor for meaningful talks on the problem. Doomed to failure of course. You could see that the minute the curtain rose. Meaningless small talk lightly cloaked a delicate issue in which views and positions were entrenched in slabs of concrete. But what makes the play an interesting and entertaining evening is that the foursome spatting and sparring constantly switched allegiance. The couples warred as much with each other as they did with the other side. I reckon those unseen kids would have enjoyed the mayhem almost as much as the stick bashing event which sparked it. Kids are like that. Ask my mother.

Veronique (Jenna Ryder-Oliver) is a bohemian Hampstead type with cultural snobbery and social conscience stamped all over her attributes. Gets up your nose the minute she opens her mouth. Husband Michel (Dave Sims) is a downmarket toilet salesman with a nice unfeeling line in killing hamsters. Or at least giving them a map and dumping them on the open road to search for adventure. An ill matched pair if ever there was one. Him and her, not the hamster. Annette (Christine Hobart) and Alain (Dave Corbett) are no better. She is a power dressing hypocrite and he is an unfeeling drugs lawyer obsessed with a constantly ringing mobile phone. Much of the fun is watching the thin veneer of respectability disintegrate, beautifully illustrated when Annette throws up over one of Veronique’s arty books, and wondering how on earth such disparate couples stayed together long enough to produce and rear two healthy and feisty eleven year old boys.  I kept musing, as the rum flowed and tempers got increasingly frayed, on how it was all going to end. But it didn’t end, it just unsatisfyingly stopped. They could still be fighting now for all I know.

Thanks to some cracking pacing from Director Anne Blow and excellent teamwork from all four actors the evening whizzed along entertainingly. It is always nice to see folks savagely having a go at throats other than your own. Jenna Ryder-Oliver’s Veronique took the largest chunk of the acting honours for richly rounding out her complex character and for her beautiful observed decline into drunken introspection. It was her kid who got whacked on the head and if he was anything like his mother you could see why. Dave Sims’ Michel was too formal and precise to approach Miss Ryder-Oliver’s stagecraft but in a strange way his uncomfortable persona added rather than detracted from his performance. Here was a man totally out of his depth in his marriage and the situation and his relationship with rodents. You left the theatre feeling a bit sorry for him.

Christine Hobart did her usual dependable job for the Rep in the role of a woman more concerned with abandoned rodents than dodgy drugs on which her husband makes his considerable living. She threw up with ease and raised many a silent cheer when she dunked that bloody mobile phone in a tulip vase. Completing the quartet Dave Corbett etched out a watchable insensitive lawyer. Are insensitive lawyers watchable I ask myself? His well cut suit and handsome beard certainly were. A lighter touch on occasions, teasing the hapless Michel on the virtues of toilet ephemera for instance, would have enhanced his innate cruelty. But Mr Corbett’s staging strength was that he was part of a closely knit team that had clearly worked its collective socks off to create an interesting evening. The credit for that must go to director Anne Blow who had taken four actors of differing abilities and banged them into a coherent and pleasing shape.

Alan Goss created a realistic middle class Parisian living room and Fred Rayment, crucially, delivered the many realistic ringings of the mobile phone. Almost a fifth character in Yasmina Reza’s short but pithy play, she has previous form, this sound effect seriously impressed. You always learn when you go to the theatre, no matter how old you are. This one taught me, as it never did my mother, never try to solve your kid’s playground problems. And if you need a mobile phone to ring on stage, get Fred Rayment. Limited career for him I am afraid. Shakespeare and Ibsen never had one. Roy Hall

Wendy Says:  I could have done with another hour of this. Worth at least three stars, probably more.

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