Tag Archives: Freema Agyeman

“God of Carnage” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play was a huge hit in Paris, London, and New York. The story of parents who meet to discuss their sons fighting – and end up at odds themselves – is neat and entertaining. This production, from Nicholai La Barrie, makes it easy to see why the play was such a success.

The show is funny and thought-provoking – two big ticks. The way the adults become “infantile themselves” might not be subtle but it is amusing. Moving from questions of parenting to a battle of the sexes – as neither marriage is happy – ensures tension mounts. Regrettably, the production doesn’t add much to appreciating the piece. The cast are competent, everything runs slickly…but there no surprises.

There’s plenty of closely studied work to enjoy though. Freema Agyeman and Martin Hutson play the parents of the child who has been injured. From “people of good will” to an admission of being only “moderate on the surface”, the performers inject humour if, possibly, a little too much energy. Ariyon Bakare and Dinita Gohil play opposite them, their more financially successful characters are also played for laughs from the start. The result comes too close to flat, especially Alain who, even given that he is a lawyer, we dislike too easily!

If too much is overplayed, especially some unconvincing machismo and onstage drinking (only Gohil really manages here), there can be no doubt about the privilege with a capital P in the play. Each of the performers comes over as entitled in slightly different ways. As the characters start to argue and say that the day is the worst of their lives, there is less and less sympathy for any of them. Some bold moments come with Alain’s claim they are all making too much of boys fighting. La Barrie, and his cast, do well when focusing attention on this aspect of the script.

Despite being only 15 years old, the play hasn’t aged well. It’s possible a stronger sense of place and time might be needed. Lily Arnold’s gorgeous design doesn’t do much to help here (although the revolve is handled exceptionally well by La Barrie). Time has blunted some of Reza’s satirical edge. It’s not just talk about mobile phones and man bags; of course, Alain’s phone calls are supposed to be annoying, but anger about them arrives too quickly.

More seriously, it’s easier nowadays to see the confrontation that is going to arise between all four characters. It’s a shame to say it, but it’s almost hard to believe they wait so long before fighting. With less tension, there is little sense of danger in the production. While Reza’s work is often described as a comedy of manners, there are serious moments. The questions around human nature are clear; is it going too far to entertain the idea of a clash of cultures? The piece could get far darker. With the drama diluted, this God of Carnage ends up too down to earth.

Until 30 September 2023


“Apologia” at the Trafalgar Studios

Here’s an example of a good play made great by a lead performance. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 1992 piece, about an older woman who is said to have chosen a career in academia over her family, is proficient: the dialogue is strong and debating points clear. But this traditional piece, with its dinner party scenario, influenced by Chekhov and Ibsen, really scores high because the legendary Stockard Channing takes the role of its heroine, Kristin Miller.

As Kristin’s family assemble for a birthday dinner – one it is all too obvious will be a disaster – a history of emotional hunger is combined with delicious humour. The lines are good… but Channing makes them land with magnificently understated sarcasm. She gets laughs from monosyllabic answers and even raised eyebrows. Director Jamie Lloyd injects his usual energy into proceedings and it’s all highly enjoyable.\

It’s a shame nobody can compete with Kristin. Her elder son, played by Joseph Millson, seems resigned and then simply angry. One daughter-in-law, an actress who won’t admit she stars in a soap opera, comes across as simply tiresome and it’s an unforgiving role for Freema Agyeman. More interesting is the character of future in-law Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael, who is challenged with meeting Kristin for the first time. Trudi is perky, apolitical and a Christian – it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel. If this play is a battle of the generations – and younger characters frequently question the idealism of their elders’ activism – the odds seem pretty stacked to me.

Channing gets even more impressive in the play’s second, much darker, act. A second son, again played by Millson, suffers from depression and makes for a heartfelt scene. But the accusations against Kristin are too long and too feeble. A well-written cruel streak adds dramatic tension but is in questionable taste. A fairer perspective comes from Trudi, a character cleverly developed, and the defence of a “witness” in the form of her old friend (a strong performance from Des Barrit). And so Kaye Campbell provides resolution. If you suspect it’s a little too pat, it’s delivered with such skill that all is forgiven.

Until 18 November 2017


Photo by Marc Brenner