Review: God of Carnage (Gielgud Theatre)

It’s been 2 great Monday nights of theatre for me – last week was Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic, starring Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum, and last night, it was the turn of Yasmina Reza‘s new play, God of Carnage, at the Gielgud Theatre.

Unsurprisingly, this production has generated a lot of attention, partly as a result of the following:

  • Yasmina Reza’s last play, Art, earned $200m and was translated into 35 languages
  • As with Art, the play is translated by the brilliant Christopher Hampton
  • As with Art, the director is Matthew Warchus, whose recent successes include Boeing Boeing and Speed-the-Plow
  • The cast contains the requisite “big name” – Ralph Fiennes

So, it was with great anticipation that I arrived at the theatre. And despite my very high expectations, this play managed to comfortably exceed them, on all dimensions…

The material
It would be very easy to start with the production, the actors or the director, but I strongly believe that it is the phenomenal quality of the writing that makes this show a success. The play is very, very funny, which says plenty about Christopher Hampton’s skill as a translator, as well as Reza’s as a writer. It’s mighty impressive for something to be quite so funny, even when not in the language in which it was written.

The play is bitterly funny, even more so as the play goes on. In many ways it reminds me of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, although I’m sure I’m not the first person to say that. Obviously both plays are played out over the course of one evening, and both have just 4 characters. But where God of Carnage really matches the Albee’s masterpiece is in its emotional intensity – most notably with the visceral hatred that underpin the evening’s ‘events’.

The cast
As with Speed-the-Plow, this is another play with a small cast, and another masterful display of stage acting. All 4 cast members – Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Janet McTeer and Ken Stott – are phenomenal, and work incredibly well as an ensemble, with no hint of arrogance. It will be interesting to see if God of Carnage becomes a long-runner, like Art was, and if so, whether the next set of actors will be able to match these performances.

On balance, it’s probably the men who are given the best lines by Reza – so much so, that I couldn’t help admiring Ralph Fiennes’ odious lawyer slightly, despite his obnoxious personality!

The direction
God of Carnage is a play with just 4 characters where there are no “events”, and it’s this that makes Matthew Warchus’ direction so impressive. As with Speed-the-Plow, he has managed to create a production that is driven forward at a relentless pace, without the movement ever seeming forced. On recent evidence, Warchus is an incredibly talented director who can really get the best out of his cast. 

In conclusion
Judging by the constant laughter, the sell-out audience enjoyed the play as much as I did. Yasmina Reza appears to have written another hit, and the cast, admirably directed by an excellent director, have realised the potential in the material, and created a very special show. I’d be pretty surprised if this didn’t run for a fair while longer…

Other reviews
The national newspapers were very positive about the show, so if you want to know what they had to say, check out the review round-up that I wrote after first night.

If you’d like to see some alternative perspectives, from The Stage, and some of the best London theatre blogs, check out the following:
The Stage – Review
West End Whingers
Guardian blog
Postcards from the Gods

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1 Response to “Review: God of Carnage (Gielgud Theatre)”


  1. 1 Steve On Broadway (SOB) May 7, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Finally read your review (I try my best not to read what anyone else has written until I’ve had a chance to see and write my own). Looks like we’re primarily on the same page. Looking forward to seeing this stateside, but wonder who they’ll cast.


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