Art by Yasmina Reza. Translated by Christopher Hampton.
Directed by Shelly Higgs. Set and costume design by Imogen Keen. Lighting by Gerry Corcoran. Sound designed by Kimmo Vennonen. Artwork by Susan Earl. A Street Theatre Professional Production. Street 1. The Street Theatre. September 5-11 2022. Bookings: 62471223.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Beware what you ask for. Opinion can be a fickle friend. At least that is what Serge (Shane Dundas) discovered when he asked his best friend Mark what he thought of a new art work that he had bought.. Mark (Christopher Carroll) is a best friend and best friends are always honest. Right? Of course right. “It’s a piece of shit” And thus begins the bitter truth telling between twitchy Serge, pompous, arrogant Mark in his stylish white suit and Ivan, the hapless victim and clumsy buffoon Ivan (Alexander). Christopher Hampton’s slick and snappy translation of Yasmina Reza’s Art, Reza's brilliant minefield of perception slips off the tongue like a gattling gun round of revelations and recriminations. And it’s all because Mark had the supercilious temerity to say what he thought of Mark’s $200,00 purchase of a large painting on a blank canvas. The elephant in the room trumpets its way through the jungular subtext of Reza’s witty dialogue and catapults the characters into emotional eruptions. What price a fifteen year friendship when it can be threatened by an expensive work of art? What cost to a coward who dares not speak his thoughts. And who is entitled to judge another’s judgement of their subjective choice? Reza, with acerbic judgement of character, peels back the layers of friendship to expose the fragile thread of friendship’s façade.
Shelly Higg’s production is in itself a work of art. Seen through the photographic lens of her keen eye for detail and image, Higgs’s staging is highly physical and brilliantly captured by her three actors. Dundas’s dermatologist twitches and writhes with expressive elasticity as he parries and thrusts his defense of his purchase. Carroll’s statuesque assumption of superiority maintains a patrician’s assertiveness and Alexander folds and crumples like the paper in his stationery store. In a moment of sheer pathos Alexander’s Ivan transforms into a chimpanzee as he gathers nuts spilt on Serge’s floor. The repartee and cut and thrust of argument from the three actors is a joy to behold. These are performers at the top of their art and Higgs guides them through the valleys and troughs of their confrontation with surgical artistry.
The Street Theatre has yet again struck gold with this production. The creative team of designer, Imogen Keen, lighting designer Gerry Corcoran, sound designer Kimmo Vennonen and artist Susan Earl combine talents to produce a visual and aural triumph. Everything about this production proclaims its highly professional status. It is almost thirty years since I saw the premiere West End production of Art and the Street Theatre production is a shining example of Reza’s insight into human nature, Hampton’s ingenious talent for capturing the idiomatic feel of every character’s personality and Higg’s skill to give this production a thoroughly contemporary style. It is an eccentric physicalized representation of the universal nature of human relationship. The audience is compelled to judge, and see themselves reflected in all three characters.
My only deep regret to conclude is that the season is far too short and is fully deserving of a West End length run. I highly commend this production and hope that it may return.