Paul Ritter and Rufus Sewell in Art. PHOTO: MANUEL HARLAN
Published: 6 January, 2017
by SIPORA LEVY
at Old Vic
TWENTY years after directing its West End debut, Matthew Warchus revives Art at The Old Vic. The play, which premiered in Paris in 1994, originally played for eight years in London, and has been successful worldwide, translated into 30 languages. Written by the French playwright Yasmina Reza, with a translation by Christopher Hampton, Art lasts 90 minutes without an interval, and is savagely funny.
When Reza received an Olivier Comedy Award in 1998 she quipped: “I thought I was writing a tragedy.”
This production stars Rufus Sewell as Serge, Paul Ritter as Marc and the comedian Tim Key as Yvan – three old friends. When Serge pays 100,000 euros for a white painting, a crisis is triggered that threatens their friendship. Marc is incredulous and outraged in equal measure, and tries to persuade Yvan to share his viewpoint. Yvan, who is experiencing his own existential meltdown, as he is about to get married to someone he has serious doubts about, wavers about the painting. A huge row ensues which brings to the surface hidden resentments and tensions between the three men, who previously have been unable to show their true feelings.
Art is well acted by all three leads – Sewell brings a charismatic, urbane presence to the character of Serge, Ritter is a bitterly cynical Marc, though it is when Key’s Yvan has a serious emotional meltdown that the audience gets truly involved.
Despite its popularity, questions have always been asked about whether Art is a contemporary classic about masculinity, or an interesting diversion. Certainly the play has dated somewhat, as it seems unlikely that in 2017 three middle-aged men would argue so voraciously about a modern painting – now it would more likely be about politics.
However, it is an entertaining and thought-provoking evening.
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