The brief title, Art, encompasses from A to T a satirical comedy that leaves the audience in stitches from beginning to end. What a grand performance from a stellar cast of seasoned comedy actors with whose names and faces the British TV audience and theatregoers are so familiar – Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson, and Stephen Tompkinson.
Art, written by French playwright Yazmina Reza, opened first in Paris in 1994, before an English-language premiere in London in 1996. It was an instant success both the West End and Broadway, winning every major award from Olivier to Tony to Moliere. After 20 years, Yasmina Reza’s play is as relevant and gripping as when it was first staged. The intense drama in the dialogues are masked with crackling humour.
The play raises some challenging questions about modern art. This is nothing new. The question of the value of modern art has been challenged in numerous plays. The excellent 1992 play by Timber Wertenbaker, Three Birds Alighting on a Field, touches on that point: a rich couple is offered as an excellent investment a frame without a canvas, for a sum that would make even the rich twitch once or twice before parting with the money.
When Serge (Nigel Havers) spends an extortionate amount of money on an all-white modernist painting by a fashionable painter, his close friend Marc (Denis Lawson) thinks it is a piece of crap. Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson), their common friend, tries to reconcile their views but manages only to antagonise them both. The ferocious reactions from the two to this “offensive” pure white canvas exhibit the personal undercurrent tensions and conflicts that exist. Through the rain of laughter each character peels away the veneer of politeness and reveals emotions and secrets seething within. Is it the white lies that cover the true views, emotions are the reality that helps sustains friendship? Are private relationships depending upon skilful hypocrisy? Is it hypocrisy or mere social survival?
In line with the minimalist modern art concept, the staging consisted of three white chairs a modern white couch, table in an expensive looking white room.
Despite the fact that the play was originally written in French and that Yasmina Reza has never lived in the UK, the performance at the Richmond Theatre has a British hallmark, hopefully that has nothing to do with Brexit! To the point, it is the superb performance by the cast of three excellent actors teased out the humour and seriousness of the issues raised.