Writer: Yasmin Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
Director: Ellie Jones
Reviewer: James Garrington
Serge has bought a painting. It’s white. On the white background are some diagonal lines – and they’re white too. It’s by a trendy artist and it was very expensive. His friends, Marc and Yvan, are not impressed – but should they tell him what they think, and what might happen to their friendship if they do?
This production is firmly based on the original Old Vic Production, and it has retained all the elements that contributed to it winning an Olivier award in 1997. It’s a somewhat bittersweet comedy, touching on themes of the nature of art and its value, and the nature of friendship – and it manages to pack a lot into a single act – 90 minutes running time – with the cast of three all delivering powerful performances. Nigel Havers is Serge, the man who bought the painting, despite not being hugely wealthy, and who doesn’t want to hear any criticism of it. Marc (Denis Lawson) is the friend who doesn’t mince his words, and who makes his disapproval clear from the start. The final member of the trio is Stephen Tompkinson (Yvan), a fence-sitter and voice of reason, who seems happy to go along with anything as long as it keeps the peace until he finds himself being attacked by both sides and has to make a decision.
The play is performed on a minimal and extremely effective set designed by Mark Thompson, which depicts any one of three apartments by a simple change of a picture. It’s also incredibly slick, with a combination of dialogue between the actors and monologues delivered directly to the audience, with changes in lighting marking the change from dialogue to monologue and back again. The lighting, designed by Hugh Vanstone, is one of many impressive elements of this production, and it is delivered beautifully by the technical team who hit the mark every time despite the jump from monologue to dialogue happening at faster than normal speech tempo.
The characters are well-observed, well-written and delivered with skill by the cast. Art contains swearing yet it comes across a relatively gentle and intelligent comedy with a lot of laugh-out-loud moments alongside some more thought-provoking and poignant content too – and special mention must go to Tompkinson for one long rant during which he hardly seems to pause to draw breath.
Art has won a number of prestigious awards around the world, and is definitely worth seeing, both for the beauty of the writing and the skill of the cast. In the end, what gives a piece of art its value, and is it really worth losing a lifetime of friendship over?
Runs Until 5 May 2018 | Image: Matt Crockett