Art by Yasmina Reza, Chichester Festival Theatre, until February 2.
Those who loved Yasmina Reza’s Art 20 odd years ago will love it again on its revival. Those of us who remember being underwhelmed might just have to think again. At least a little.
The play’s cult phenomenon still seems vastly out of proportion to the merits of the play itself, but there’s no doubting the immense skill which the current cast in the current production brings to it.
The Art die-hards have long since explained to the slightly-baffled “Well, you see it isn’t about art at all. It’s actually about friendship.” And this is a production which brings it out nicely, poignantly even, particularly in a superb performance from Stephen Tompkinson.
The gist, famously, is that Serge (Nigel Havers) has spent an absolute fortune on an all-white painting with white diagonals across it. His friends Marc (Denis Lawson) and Yvan (Tompkinson) are split. Marc dismisses it with a four-letter word beginning with s and takes the whole thing as a personal affront. Yvan is more inclined to take the mick but does actually start to see something in the artwork.
And so, in various permutations, the three of them argue. And argue. And then argue some more, their friendship tested to the limit by a painting which starts to seem simply the catalyst to the opening of fractures which were already there.
Then comes a shocking moment… maybe the moment the play really ought to have ended. When it resumes for a few minutes, the piece seems to dilute itself again.
Yes, it’s enjoyable and occasionally very funny, but the play is considerably inferior to Reza’s much later God of Carnage which says much, much more much more interestingly.
However, Nigel Havers on stage is always a treat, the twinkle, the charm, the expressiveness, the naturalness and the brilliance… He has always been one of our very finest.