This is quite the week for dramas about friction and fireworks between and among two sets of couples. Yet the revival of Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage, which also opened last night, has nothing on the blistering power that Frances-White and her fine cast, which includes a splendid Greg Wise, unleash here.
We’re in the boutique restaurant run by Jacq (Alexandra Roach) and Kas (Amit Shah), but financed by Tobin (Wise), the wealthy older husband of their university friend Adaego (Susan Wokoma). The restaurant has gone bankrupt and Jacq and Kas wait nervously to deliver the news to their backer. The other pair arrive, fragrant with wealth, confidence and seemingly impeccable liberal credentials. Tobin, who runs a “sustainable hedge fund”, is the sort of person who talks a lot about how important it is to stop talking and listen instead.
The humour zings from the start. Both couples enjoy their own private drinking games and when the quartet embarks ill-advisedly on the “Never Have I Ever” of the title, all hell breaks loose – and the gloves of social nicety are brutally ripped off. Positions are taken – Jacq is proudly working class, Adaego sees covert racism everywhere, Tobin is tired of getting castigated for being a straight white male, whereas Kas simply wants to keep the peace – and loudly re-iterated. Deliciously scabrous lines abound, which these four beautifully matched actors visibly relish. Emma Butler’s production, in which breaks between scenes are marked by sudden flames from little countertop grills, flies.
Wokoma allows us to understand, by subtle degrees, how Adaego’s imperiousness and confidence have had to be carefully constructed over time. Wise, all laid-back arrogance initially, makes Tobin appear ever more pitiable as he blindly pursues the one thing that will cause maximum destruction. Roach does delicate work of shaping Jacq’s many conflicts and contradictions into a fundamentally decent human being and Shah comes into his own as Kas stages a defiant late rally of self-assertion.
A touch of judicious editing of some repetitive second half preachiness is required, but after that a West End transfer should surely beckon.
Last year Chichester premiered comedy The Unfriend, which is about to return for a second London season, and this is infinitely superior.
To 30 Sept (01243 781312, cft.org.uk)