Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton
Gala, Durham, and touring
Art hit the West End in 1996 and has been on the go ever since. The latest tour, which opened on 24th January, will have visited twenty theatres when it ends on 23rd July, and it's a pretty safe be that there will be another tour to come. As in its numerous West End incarnations and other tours, it stars actors best known for their TV work: Russell Boulter (best known, for five years, as DS John Boulton in The Bill), Michael Garner ("Poison" Pearce in ten series of London's Burning) and Simon Shepherd (Dr Will Preston in six series of Peak Practice), who also directs.
As it is now in its ninth year, there is little a reviewer can say about the play itself: it's all been said before. Although the catalyst for the action is the purchase of a totally white picture (for 200,000 francs) by Serge (Shepherd) and the reaction to it of his two friends Yvan (Garner) and Marc (Boulter), and although it does raise questions about the nature of art, it is really a play about the nature of of male friendship. Indeed, it raises the question of how these three very disparate characters ever became friends in the first place.
For each of them friendship is something which feeds their egos or alleviates their insecurities. Although professing concern for the others, they are really focused inwards. Their need for this friendship, however, is such that, in spite of the fundamental disagreements which the purchase of the painting precipitates, they are desperate to hold on.
It is funny - laugh aloud funny for some of the time, interior (often wry) chuckles at others. The cast, who all have extensive theatre experience as well as the TV for which they are best known, handle it well. The characters are well delineated and the audience responds with the right mixture of sympathy and exasperation.
A very plain but rather elegant set, serves as a room in the homes of each of the characters in turn, with a change of picture (or lack of it, in the case of Serge's home) and a subtle alteration in lighting state indicating the changes.
At just eighty minutes, without an interval, it is a pleasant, albeit undemanding, evening of theatre.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan