The God of Carnage and his Wolfish Worshippers

Yesterday on facebook, my friend Ali White, who is one of the actors in Prime Cut's production of "The God of Carnage", plugged the last few shows by posting:
"Four more chances to see God of Carnage in the MAC in Belfast if you fancy it. It even made David Campton laugh and if that's not a recommendation of hilarity I don't know what is."
As I commented, I'm not sure whether that is a compliment or an insult... but to be tagged by Ali is flattering enough, and given that she is basing her comment on my carefully cultivated image as a grumpy old man (indeed Ali first knew me when I was a grumpy young man), I suppose it is a fair comment...
Because I did laugh... loudly (loudly enough for Ali to identify my laugh)... But I was genuinely disturbed that I had found it funny, because in many ways there is nothing funny about it. Indeed as the play began I felt slightly ill-at ease given that it begins with the repercussions of a violent encounter between two children, and this week had one young person in Enniskillen being arrested for the manslaughter of a younger boy in a playground altercation.
I also couldn't disengage my "drama-nerd" circuit and was wondering why the director hadn't changed the Parisien placenames to more local ones... But as the play went on an the nice, middle-class sniping spiralled downwards into Neanderthal brawling (both verbally and physically), I was drawn deeper and deeper into the mess of it all, and I laugher louder and louder.
But I was still asking myself, after the show ended, why a show which exposes the superficiality of polite society and has such a cynical view of human relationships, left me smiling at the end...
Part of it was that it was because it was so well acted and directed - and the director made the right decision in keeping in the Parisien placenames, because it prevented me and other members of the audience from righting off the attitudes and behaviours of the characters as being "typical of people from that part of town." Instead there was plenty for everyone to identify with in all the characters... although I particularly, and uncomfortably, identified with Michel, the middle aged self-confessed Neanderthal, played with his usual guto by Dan Gordon...
Good plays, well staged will usually leave me with a smile on my face... but not all comedies will leave me thinking for as long as this one has... It was not just Ali's post on facebook that prompted this post... It has been percolating since I came home from it on Tuesday... and it was probably exacerbated by the 5th episode in the wonderful "Wolf Hall" that I watched last night...
I didn't really enjoy Hillary Mantel's books... I just couldn't get into her idiosyncratic approach to dialogue... But in a dramatisation all that problem is removed... And the combination of a compelling story and superb performances, especially by the mesmeric Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell has left me transfixed week after week... And yet there is little to commend in the actions of many of the key players in this story. As another actor friend Roddy McDevitt, who knows and admires Mark Rylance said:
"Everyone loves it... Clearly there is something deeply dodgy about it... Sympathy for psychos... It somehow validates our murderous present day rulers..."
In the book Wolf Hall Cromwell refers to the Latin phrase "Homo homini lupus est" meaning "man is a wolf to man" in reference to how other courtiers preyed on his master Cardinal Wolsey... And this could be a subtitle to the whole story (including the third part of Mantel's trilogy which is yet to be inflicted on us.
Normally I find little joy in such stories... I avoid gangster stories (and is the story of the Tudors not a gangster story with codpieces and stockings?), and don't enjoy soaps, and thrillers that seem to wallow in the grimmer side of human existence. It's not that I am squeamish. It's just I see enough of it in my day job without watching it on TV, film or indeed the stage... For exactly the same reason I don't tend to watch Question Time or listen to Nolan... I don't enjoy watching people tear each other apart wolfishly, worshipping the God of Carnage who has an insatiable appetite for human sacrifices. But "The God of carnage" and "Wolf Hall" both point to our tendency to worship this cruel deity... whether we dress him up in Biblical clothes or deny his existence (or the existence of any deity) as nice modern secular middle class people tend to do these days...
I have no time for middle-class pretense and pretensiousness and the moralising that often comes with it... Nor do I have any time for the fanaticism of those who are so certain of their belief (or non-belief) that they will seek to destroy (physically or intellectually) those who believe differently.
I seek to serve a God of grace... revealled in Jesus of Nazareth, who reserved his anger and ire for those who used religious and political power to profit from and oppress others; who was prepared to die for others but not kill others... Not a wolf, but a lamb...
But a lamb wouldn't last much longer than a hamster in the plot of "God of Carnage"... Go see the play to understand that reference... you now only have 3 chances to see it... You will laugh, but you might end up asking yourself "why"?



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