God of Carnage

God of Carnageby Yasmina Reza; dir Helen Withers
Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry
23 – 30 March 2013
3 stars

God of Carnage is a play by Yasmina Reza about two couples, one of whose child has hurt the other at a public park, who meet to discuss the matter in a civilized manner. As the play unfolds we learn that kids will be kids, but when two sets of parents get together it can become absolute carnage.

The play was a success in its original French, and whilst it has been widely acclaimed as an English-translated production, I wasn’t enamoured of it. I just didn’t quite see why it was funny, and I’m not entirely convinced the cast did either. That’s not to say it isn’t worth watching, and whilst I didn’t like the script or perhaps the translation, my opinion of the production itself was mainly positive.

All four performances were strong considering what they had to work with and I particularly enjoyed Trev Clarke’s hamster rant (this bit was funny; I’d recommend going for this alone) and Annie Gay’s projectile vomit stunt, and Cathryn Bowler’s performance of a woman quickly descending from the high-brow heights of common decency into a rum-drinking, potty-mouthed woman on the edge is also pretty funny and performed very well. Jon Elves was convincing as a parent who had something far better to do than stay analysing the behaviour of his child Ferdinand, but I’m not sure if that was him in character or the actor’s true feelings coming through.

A rather large gripe of mine, hinted at above, was the translation, which I found rather odd. I don’t know if this was the theatre’s interpretation or was as written, but if you want an audience to believe and be taken in by what they’re watching then you have to make it make sense! Bruno and Ferdinand are French names (beautiful as they are), no modern man calls a woman “madam” anymore and (here I show my ignorance) what the hell is a Clafouti?

Overall I would say it’s worth watching. The performances were good and the set itself was beautifully designed and, if you like a bit of farce then I suggest you see it. Oh, and there’s no interval so you’re out and at the bar a lot earlier than normal – now that’s a bonus.

Marmite

Suddenly Last Summer

Suddenly Last Summerby Tennessee Williams; dir David Hankins
Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa
19 March – 23 March 2013
3 stars

We are in the steamy, semi-tropical landscape of Louisiana.

Sebastian died last summer whilst in Europe. The circumstances of that death are unclear and this is the central theme of the play. Sebastian’s mother, Violet Venable, is convinced that her niece, Catherine Holly, who was with Sebastian at the time, carries responsibility for his death. As the play progresses it becomes apparent the Sebastian was homosexual and that both his mother and his cousin, Catherine were not above pimping for him. His mother is keen to suppress this and, to that end, is promoting Catherine as insane – even to the point of encouraging Catherine’s neurosurgeon, Dr Cukrowicz, to consider lobotomy. Ultimately the true nature of Sebastian’s death is revealed.

The first half an hour of the play is largely a monologue from Violet Venables (Sue Moore) with brief interjections from Dr Cukrowicz (Paul Atkins). The language is darkly poetic with frequent imagery of predation. A savage world is described full of unforgiving forces of nature. Sue Moore certainly gives us the hauteur of the southern aristocrat and handles the part with assurance and a rolling anger which underpins her performance. Given the length of this section a richer, more varied palette would have helped. We might have found her reflecting on past events with some sad pleasure. Also the actor’s instinct to become almost inaudible at the most introspective moments was a distraction.

The last half hour of the play very much belongs to Catherine Holly and what a brilliant, passionate feast she makes of it. She moves from defending herself, to attacking her aunt and narrating the events surrounding Sebastian’s death with great skill. Many changes of gear here and Sophie Dyke has given us a hugely effective introduction to her considerable abilities.

Paul Aitkin’s Doctor Cukrowicz is largely there to service the battle between Violet and Catherine. Nevertheless it needs a quiet authority and this performance has the right weight to provoke the explosive and revealing reactions of the two women.

The other three or four roles are very peripheral and yet, here, played well and with confidence.

Although accents are brave rather than accurate and the emotions have something of an Anglo-Saxon reserve rather than a full blown Latin expression we are given a welcome opportunity to enjoy a seldom performed piece.

Dombey & son

In Praise of Love

In Prise of Loveby Terrence Rattigan; dir John Dawson
Talisman Theatre, Kenilworth
4 – 9 March 2013
4 stars

Rattigan’s plays have been largely out of favour for some time now. This is a pity, because they represent some of the best that British theatre can provide, and have great emotional depth. Every now and again we come across a revival that reminds us of what we have been missing.

In Praise of Love may not be one of his most effective pieces, and may be excessively wordy for some, but it still has the power to move and, at times, to amuse.

This production by John Dawson is largely effective if, visually, it struggles somewhat to identify its period. For the second production running the Talisman wardrobe falls short. We are supposed to be witnessing the 1970s, but what we see costume-wise is too modern and, occasionally, conflicts with the tone and the style of the piece.

If one can put this aside, however, there is much to enjoy in the performances. Linda Connor, making only her second appearance at the Talisman, gives an assured rendering of Lydia Cruttwell, the wife with a terminal diagnosis. The character has to run the gamut of emotions during the course of the play. Ms Connor achieves this with some style and succeeds with a fairly subtle central European accent (Lydia being Estonian by birth).

As her, apparently, hard-nosed husband with Communist affiliations, Andrew Bayliss gives a largely believable portrayal (especially in the latter stages) of a man shielding his true emotions from both family and friends by bluster and feigned disdain.

In the lesser roles of family friend and the Cruttwell’s Liberal supporter son, John Francis and Damian Story do well. Mr Francis is suitably relaxed and sympathetic as Mark, a pleasant change from some of his more exuberant performances, and it is good to see a young actor like Mr Story coming across strongly in a small but vital role.

Paul Chokran’s set, an adaptation from the previous production, works well.

Overall not perfect, but an enjoyable evening nonetheless, and deserves to be seen by bigger audiences than I witnessed.

Hari Kitson

Pravda

Pravdaby Howard Brenton & David Hare; dir Gordon Vallins
Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa
27 February – 9 March 2013
4 stars

We tend to forget how long Rupert Murdoch has dominated British media and this play, originally performed in 1985, reminds us of the impact he had, and has, on the press. Moved from Australia to South Africa and now called Lambert La Roux the protagonist infiltrates the newspaper industry of the time and turns it into a right-wing, popularist tirade.

Gordon Vallins’ satirical production gives us a collection of broadly drawn characters that, in the main, would not be out of place in a comic strip. We are offered foul-mouthed Aussie businessmen; airily disdainful Oxford graduates with double firsts in Greats; a well boozed princess close to HR; High Tory, self-serving grandees and union bosses willing to bring down the world around them.

The action is fast moving, funny and presented in a number of simple scenes efficiently morphing from location to location and supported with a telling programme of images projected onto the back wall of the stage. The stage floor is painted as giant front pages and the journalists work at newspaper covered desks. This is very much the theatre of ‘broad strokes’ rather than fine detail – more Brecht than Chekhov. There are, possibly, some inconsistencies here with some actors more inclined to naturalism than seems to be the main theme elsewhere.

David Pinner’s performance as Lambert La Roux is magnificently broad and his pivotal position at the heart of the play is assured and hugely effective at drawing the attention. Alex Comer as Andrew May, the pawn in La Roux’ game, has a less flashy role, which reminds us of the normal world which La Roux seeks to manipulate. Zoë Faithfull completes this central group as Andrew May’s wife. Sassy, feminist, opinionated and politically aware she gives us the modern woman determined to be heard. Add to this La Roux’ Aussie business manager, James Wolstenholme, who gives us a wonderful, down-to-earth colonial who sees no reason for not sharing jokes about ‘abbo’ nudists with princesses of the realm.

The remaining dozen or so actors flesh out the forty parts of the play. We see the same face popping up with a different voice and hat at points throughout the evening. This is, in the main, an effective device in itself in that it reminds us that this is theatre and we do not need to be deceived into believing that we are eavesdropping on the real world. A particular joy was the exuberant performance of the promotional jingle ‘Bingo’ towards the end of the evening.

When it works as well as, generally, it does here, there is always a particular satisfaction in pieces which put so much dependence on imaginative performance and presentation.

Two and a half hours well spent in the theatre.

squirrel