Best to leave God at home and prepare for the carnage

That Theatre presents an acclaimed black comedy featuring a strong international cast

God of Carnage
Krudttønden, Serridslevsvej 2, Cph Ø; starts Wed, ends March 22; performances Mon-Fri 20:00 & Sat 17:00; tickets: adults 165kr, students 105kr, group concessions available, www.billetten.dk, www.teaterbilletter.dk; www.that-theatre.com


 

 

Back in 2005, the seeds for God of Carnage were sown when French playwright Yasmina Reza’s son returned home with a story about a friend who had his tooth broken in a schoolboy spat. On meeting the victim’s mother in the street, she asked how the son was, to which the mother replied: “Can you imagine? The parents (of the other boy in the fight) didn’t even call me.”

Three months of non-stop scribbling ensued and another classic Reza play was done and dusted. The result was a sharp, witty farce and merciless dissection of the ugly truth that lurks beneath the fragile espresso-sipping bourgeois veneer of two seemingly respectable couples.

Copenhagen audiences now have a chance to watch this pandemonium up close as That Theatre Company brings the quarrelsome quartet of characters to life on stage at Østerbro’s Krudttønden theatre.

God of Carnage (originally Le Dieu du carnage) is a boisterous and barbed romp that opens with a cosy scene of coffee table civility, only to completely disembowel it piece by piece. The aftermath of a playground schoolboy punch-up sees the two outwardly respectable sets of parents convening to ‘talk’ it out. Undertones of tension soon appear in the dialogue: “Is it just a case of boys will be boys?” and what starts with the unbearably superficial observation of diplomatic niceties, gradually degenerates into all-out chaos as the four smug middle class parents let their masks slip to reveal their own grotesque true colours. Misogyny, racism and homophobia become the loaded topics of conversation as they sink deeper into a mire of their own making. Ripping the stuffing out of the pompous characters is one thing, but the play is also fascinating in its forging of fleeting alliances as men and women unite against each other, and the husbands and wives disloyally swap allegiances.

The play was a huge success in its original language, French, and Christopher Hampton’s excellent English translation has been equally acclaimed as a “comedy of manners, without the manners”. The Broadway production opened in 2009 and ran for 24 previews and 452 regular performances. The star-studded cast were all nominated for Tony awards. The 2011 Roman Polanski film version, Carnage, was shot in Paris with Jodie Foster and Kate Winslett as the leading ladies. And now it is the turn of Copenhagen.

That Theatre has been going strong since 1997 with a couple of productions a year. This production of God of Carnage features a strong international cast of quite some pedigree with two Danes, a German and a Brit: Adam Brix as Alan, the cynical, high-powered lawyer glued to his phone; Sira Stampe as the well-heeled Annette, an expert in wealth management (her husband’s to be precise!); Katrin Weisser as Veronica – a nauseatingly PC moral crusader writing a book about Dafur; and the much-loved actor Ian Burns adopting a Bronx drawl as Michael, a somewhat vulgar self-made wholesaler.

To direct the film, That Theatre company has gone for a Burton: the actor turned director Harry Burton. Trained as a director at the BBC after 20 years as a performer in plays, musicals and on screen, Burton has received much critical acclaim for his off-stage direction.

“The story itself needs no explaining,” Burton explains in the press material. “The marriages and relationships are where the fun starts, and we will explore those fully in rehearsal. But I tend to direct very ‘straight’. I’m not too interested in improvising, at least not when the text is as rich and as good as this one.”

As the drama unfolds, the four characters frantically attempt to justify their own flaws. As Michael drunkenly declares:  “Children consume our lives and then destroy them; children drag us towards disaster. It’s unavoidable. When you see those laughing couples casting off into the sea of matrimony, you think to yourself: They have no idea those poor things, they just have no idea.”

While such lines may elicit sniggers from the audience, the laughter may be laced with a touch of discomfort as Reza’s dark humour contains an unhealthy dose of truth. Reza certainly revels in exposing the hypocrisy of the middle class characters, and undoubtedly some in the audience will be uncomfortably squirming between the belly laughs.

In a dialogue-heavy comedy such as God of Carnage, a lot rests on the shoulders of the on-stage chemistry and character interpretations of the four performers. With the strong individual reputations of the cast, this will be an eagerly awaited performance that will hopefully live up to director Burton’s aim of wanting “audience members to have one of the great nights of their lives”.