'Art', The Old Vic, Review: ‘Performed Charmingly With One Eye On the Audience’
Islington Gazette, 11 January 2017
After an absence on the West End landscape, where its original 1994 production picked up the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, Yazmina Reza’s celebrated 'Art' is back bearing its teeth again.
The plot is disarmingly simple. There are three friends. One of them, Serge (Rufus Sewell), has bought a 100,000 Euro painting: a white canvass with barely imperceptible subtleties. Serge’s friend, Marc (Paul Ritter), scoffs with disgust upon sight of it, while sensitive Yvan (Tim Key) treads carefully and approaches matters diplomatically, but even he fails to prevent the friends from disputing the painting’s artistic merit. It is a debate that ends up exposing sinister, pre-existing fissures in their relationships.
A fraught pre-meal soiree is where matters come to a head, with missives flung in every direction reminiscent of Reza’s own 'God of Carnage' or Mike Leigh’s 'Abigail’s Party'.
Even here though, much like Leigh’s work, 'Art' is sprinkled with dark humour. It is performed charmingly with one eye on the audience at all times – in fact, the fourth wall is frequently broken – making us complicit with the goings-on up on stage.
It is to Reza’s credit that she unearthed such a wealth of notions from a crude set-up. And yet, despite having high quality ingredients at their disposal, this version runs with a curious limp. It is a little too staid in its hysteria.
The venomous exchanges are hurled with no recourse or memory to any affection that no doubt originally tied these friends together. This ensures an emotional shut-out and makes 'Art' feel altogether a little too one-note.
It is not all bad though. The performances exude charisma. Plus, you are sure to leave pondering the subjective nature of art, relationships and how vociferously we are inclined to fight our corner in the name of personal opinion.