BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Smouldering Rufus Sewell Finds New Love: Actor Returns to the London Stage With Part In Prize-winning Play 'Art'

Daily Mail, 20 September 2016
By Baz Bamigboye

Rufus Sewell is returning to the London stage — which is good news for those bereft that his role in the ITV blockbuster Victoria has ended.

Sewell, who portrayed Lord Melbourne, the young sovereign’s key adviser and first Prime Minister, toppled Poldark’s Aidan Turner from his position as the nation’s favourite Sunday Night Sexpot — despite remaining fully clothed and not wielding a scythe.

The 48-year-old has been cast with acclaimed actor Paul Ritter and comic writer and performer Tim Key in the 20th-anniversary production of Yasmina Reza’s prize-winning play 'Art'.

The drama, originally starring Tom Courtenay, Albert Finney and Ken Stott, is about three Parisians whose friendship teeters on the brink of catastrophic collapse after one of them, Serge (to be played by Sewell), buys a white-on-white painting for an obscene amount of money.

It was a hit in France, and then Christopher Hampton translated it for London. Producers David Pugh, Sean Connery and Dafydd Rogers cast the aforementioned leading actors and put it into Wyndham’s Theatre.

And before long, 'Art' was being staged on Broadway, and translated into 20 languages.

Matthew Warchus, who framed it into a hit first time round, is back directing the new production at the Old Vic, where he is artistic chief, and where it will run from December 10.

Warchus explained that he cast his actors for the deceptively deep play on the basis of their thespian qualities, rather than their box-office appeal, and said that he and Sewell had been discussing working together for years. He called Sewell a ‘tremendous actor’ who can give Serge the ‘comic chops, intensity and authority to defend his irrational love for his white painting’.

‘It’s three actors, exposed on a set for 90 minutes,’ he added. ‘There’s nowhere to hide.’

Because Reza doesn’t like her plays to be called comedies (she refers to'Art' as a tragedy), it was important to get actors who could find not only the humour in the piece, but also its psychological and emotional centre.

Warchus said the creative team would revise the play during rehearsals, including updating how much Serge paid for the painting (from a filthy amount of francs to beaucoup d’euros).

Also, there’s a sense that Art should stay situated in Paris. I suggested that the recent terrorist atrocities would add another layer to it. The director agreed.

‘This is a play that’s fundamentally about tolerance and prejudice — and what an art it is to let other people believe what they want to believe, even if you disagree.’

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