Art - Review

This production proved to be a salutary lesson in dismissing a play before seeing it. When Art was first performed I read the reviews and synopsis, decided that it was not a play for me so I avoided it every time it surfaced – until now. Loyalty to Charles made me book a ticket in order to review it for the Newsletter. How grateful I am to Tim McQuillen-Wright for showing me the error of my ways with his delightful production.

Art is a simple play without a plot – it is an entertaining and at times an extremely funny play involving three old friends. It is an intellectual squabble that looks at friendship and its betrayal set within a debate as to “What is Art?”

Serge, a modernist, clashes with Marc, a classicist, when he purchases for 200,000 francs a large canvas totally white with barely perceivable “white diagonal scars”. The showing of this purchase is the catalyst that causes an emotional earthquake that shakes the foundations of their relationship. Whilst accepting the view of art experts that his purchase is significant he is desperate for such validation from his friends.

Marc, as one time mentor, feels betrayed when Serge becomes influenced by a circle of other people. It is not really the passion for abstract art that infuriates but his loss of control – his pupil has outgrown him.

Sitting on the fence and trying to act as peace maker is the neurotic Yvan who is having problems of his own involving his forthcoming marriage. He is a shambling disorganised figure that sharply contrasts with his two cerebral friends. But like the others he possesses a volatile nature that is brought to the surface when provoked.

The writer cleverly depicts the shifting alliances formed throughout the play. An example being when Marc and Serge are attacking each other ferociously an interjection from Yvan causes them to unite, instantly, turning their invective on to him.

The play is an actor’s delight giving the three cast members great scope to show off their talent. Matt Cotton played Marc with a combustionable passion that brought to mind an emotional pressure cooker that cannot survive unless its steam is released.

By contrast Colin Elmer’s Serge was more clinical, almost icy at times. One wounded with fire the other with frostbite. Elmer, who impressed in the production of Festen, continued to do so as he endowed the part with a narcissistic element.

It fell to Andrew Allen to provide the bulk of the comedy. His Yvan was a masterpiece of comic creation – a shambolic figure forever twitching with lips trembling to find the right words to say. His monologue regarding the wedding invitations proved to be the comic highlight – his delivery with rising hysteria was masterful.

If this was McQuillen-Wright’s first attempt at directing then he should feel proud. The production was slick with the cast cleverly moved around and placed to satisfy all three sides of the audience. The transition between place and time was beautifully achieved aided by effective and efficient lighting cues.


Barrie Jerram
11 October 2009