Writer: Yazmina Reza
Translator: Christopher Hampton
Director: Martin Hutson
Composer: Chris Warner
Set Designer: Ed Ullyart
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Art is one of the more remarkable theatrical success stories of the past quarter-century. Originally staged in Paris in 1994, it transferred to the West End in Christopher Hampton’s translation two years later, ran for eight years and has never lacked for revivals.
The basic idea is very slight – two old friends falling out over a preposterous abstract painting bought by one of them and the third member of their circle infuriating both of them by attempting to mediate – and, though the development has more to say about the nature of friendship and the need (or lack of it) for honesty, it’s still not exactly substantial. It’s not the funniest of comedies either, though the insults flying to and fro have a witty urbanity embedded in the obscenities.
The appeal lies partly in a theme that resonates with many of us today: art as a home for the prosperous and pretentious in pursuit of the fashionable. Yasmina Reza built a reputation on short satirical plays of ideas and her ideas about friendship are, if anything, more challenging than her views on art, in particular, the realisation that we can love a friend for what (s)he feels and admires about us.
However, another feature that made Art a West End phenomenon is that it is a perfect star vehicle. There are three meaty parts for male actors, none of the characters so rigidly developed as to stop the creation of a star turn, each given the opportunity to engage audience sympathy – and at 90 minutes it could be part of a West End night out for the audience members. Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott kicked off the run and, after a string of short contracts for top comedians and character actors, the stars of League of Gentlemen rounded it off.
So where does this place East Riding Theatre’s production? Given three very capable actors playing together admirably as a team, Art comes out as thoughtful and amusing, an engaging evening in the theatre, warmly received at the reviewed performance.
Malcolm Tomlinson is Serge, the purchaser of what Marc calls (frequently) “a piece of sh*t”, newly a part of the pretentious art world, urbane, but uncertain, always aware that he was once Marc’s protégé, echoing his opinions. Richard Avery (Marc) rages with scatological fury at Serge’s assertion of independence and knows that his hatred of the picture comes not from its awfulness (and it is awful), but from his own loss of influence. As Yvan Clive Kneller benefits from raising the stakes and going a touch over the top. Mother-dominated, terrified of his imminent wedding, Yvan seeks respite in the friendship of Marc and Serge, but his refusal to take sides results in the usual reward of the conciliator – he gets blamed for everything!
Ed Ullyart’s set is simple, but stylish, the three apartments indicated by a change of picture on the wall (what else?), and Chris Warner’s music creates the Parisian mood – anyone for Erik Satie? Martin Hutson’s economical direction paces the evening perfectly for yet another assured East Riding production.
Runs until 20 October 2018 | Image: Contributed