God of Carnage

Ardal O'Hanlon and Owen Roe in 'God of Carnage' at the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

Ardal O'Hanlon and Owen Roe in 'God of Carnage' at the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

An early joke about the difference between Palmerstown Park and Bushy Park lets us know that Yazmina Reza’s 2006 play, originally written in French, has been adapted to Dublin. Orwell Road is where Michael (Roe) and Veronica Fallon (Dent) purchase their tulips, and the living room in which the action is set has two blooming vases to show for it.

The couple are joined by Alan (O’Hanlon) and Annette (Tierney) Reilly to discuss a playground incident between their two eleven-year-old sons. The Reilly’s boy Ferdia lashed out at the Fallon’s son Bruno with a stick, smashing his two front teeth. They meet to chat about the episode in a civilised manner. Alan calls his wife ‘Woof Woof’ while Michael refers to his as ‘Darjeeling.’

Tensions simmer from the outset, although they are initially off-set by shots of espresso and generous portions of Veronica’s prized clafoutis. The heat rises when corporate lawyer Alan starts to receive phone calls from a pharmaceutical client about a problem drug. He takes over the space, disrupts the conversation, and readily attempts to leave. Wife Annette tries to rein him in and get discussions back on track. Although more patient than her husband, she won’t be told how best to punish her son. No response seems good enough for Veronica – she wants the children to have a formal ‘reckoning,’ to understand the gravity of the situation.

Veronica’s husband agrees to begin with, although when the Reillys reveal that Bruno is part of a gang, Michael fondly chats to Alan about leading one in school too. Men side with men, women with women, and occasionally they cross divides. Annette’s emetic explosion across Veronica’s precious Kokoschka book marks the tipping point, and with the introduction of a bottle of rum, it’s a downward spiral. Clothes are stripped off and insults hurled.

The polarising value systems on which the play is hooked are thrown into relief when Alan claims he believes in the “God of Carnage”, while Veronica thinks peaceful “co-existence” though empathy is possible. Alan’s ideas have been shaped by a stint in the Congo, and Veronica has just completed writing a book on Darfur. Yet these are purely academic differences that do not really impact upon the ways they characters live their lives.

The mixture of Dublin, American, and soft rural accents would suggest that there is nothing homogenous about this middle-class mix. Other distinctions are present too: the Fallons own a hardware store, while the Reilly’s are high-powered professionals. In both cases, the women have coached the men on propriety, although as Michael announces at one point, he is reclaiming his “Neanderthal” spirit.

Eileen Diss designs a set you could live in: meticulously detailed and realistic. Rows of neatly stacked books line the cream walls, with some spilling over onto the coffee table.

Dent and Roe manage to raise most laughs, playing close to histrionic at times. But in a play where quick, sparky delivery is all, the chemistry between the four actors is not quite there.

As a comedy of manners goes, Riza’s play only scratches the surface. Although Alan believes in an innate destructive impulse, and Veronica yearns for accord, two broken incisors is as close as they get to encountering actual violence. This, of course, is why they get so wrapped up in playground squabbles, and why the two women devour images of Francis Bacon. “Chaos…and balance,” Veronica surmises, although in Dent’s delivery she seems unsure and insincere. While the playwright drops just a couple of references to the outside world in the script, in every way the characters seem essentially cocooned.

While the veneer of civility is certainly tarnished as the evening unfolds, no great revelations are made: lots of bickering, yes, but no juicy scandal or realisations that flip this world on its head. While the direction mainly focuses on the comedic strands of the writing, there were some moments where darker notes could have been developed for contrast, and the action allowed to get messier or even more palpably vicious. This might allow the audience not simply to laugh in unison with the characters, but against them, and ourselves. This would be the more complicated yet richer way to approach this style of dramatic writing.

Fintan Walsh writes about theatre and teaches at the Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin. 


  • Review
  • Theatre

God of Carnage by Yazmina Reza, in a translation by Christopher Hampton

8 February – 26 March, 2011

Produced by The Gate Theatre
In The Gate Theatre

Directed by Alan Stanford

Set Design: Eileen Diss

Costume Design: Joan O’Cleary

Lighting Design: Paul Keogan

With: Donna Dent, Ardal O’Hanlon, Owen Roe and Maura Tierney