Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews



Old Vic Production/David Pugh & Dafydd Roberts , Wales Millennium Centre , May-28-18
ART by Old Vic Production/David Pugh & Dafydd Roberts Due to the strength of these three top-notch actors, Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson, this chamber play filled the very large magnificent Donald Gordon Theatre with its near 2000 seats splendidly. Despite the fact that the three of them spent the whole evening throwing insults at each other they created a warmth that added to the pleasure of watching Yasmina Reza’s thought provoking comedy in its spirited translation by Christopher Hampton.

I don’t suppose for a moment the blank space above has provoked any thoughts or reactions but a blank space is what this play is all about. Serge, an edgy, sophisticated performance from Nigel Havers, has bought himself a painting, a work of modern art for £200,000. Very enthusiastically he shows it off to his good friend Marc, a man with useful inner strengths, Denis Lawson. Serge thinks he has a bargain – a completely bare white canvas. Marc sums up his reaction to the painting with one word, “shit!” Serge is definitely not pleased and their long-term friendship begins to evaporate. Always a bit frantic but very articulate, we meet Yvan, Stephen Tompkinson, the other member of this one time very close trio. In his bewilderment he has a go at reconciliation only to be turned on by the other two.

And so we join them insulting each other and arguing the night away. At one moment Serge and Marc come to blows, poor Yvan steps in to try to separate them and gets the worst of it again.

The sometimes, very nasty insults they fire at each other may question the whole nature of friendship. Beneath this 90 minute banter lie many questions concerning the value of modern art. Are there many of us who are taken in by this large plain white canvas? Certainly we see around today many works of modern art that are highly questionable. What does art mean, what does friendship mean? There are no real answers here but by golly, these boys have good fun trying to finding out.

The original director, Matthew Warchus, in this 20th anniversary of the opening of the play, glides it perfectly along, capturing every human nuance. Designer, Mark Thompson makes his comment, setting the play in Serge’s large WHITE Parisian apartment, Mic Pool’s subtle sound design creeps in from time to time, pointedly underlying the difficult proceedings.

The play itself questions the whole art of theatre itself. This is not a realistic drama, drawing us into the lives of the people we see. It does not arouse us emotionally towards them. Very much Brechtian in its style, we have three very fine actors on an almost bare stage speaking with clarity and delight, provoking our thoughts and laughter.

The play first opened in London in 1996 and was an immediate success. One remarkable thing about this production was that it quickly acquired a long string of many of our best know actors eager to take on the roles and many of them did. It is the professional camaraderie that working on the play provokes that introduces a gentle warmth for us all to share.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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