Wednesday, September 7, 2022

ART by Yasmina Reza


Christopher Carroll and Shane Dundas in "ART".

Directed by Shelly Higgs – Stage and Costume design by Imogen Keen

Sound design by Kimmo Vennonen – Lighting design by Gerry Corcoran

Street Theatre 9th – 11th September

Opening night performance reviewed by Bill Stephens.

Originally a French-language play, Yasmina Reza’s wordy comedy “Art” utilises the perceived pretensions of the art world to explore notions of art and the nature of friendship. Adapted and translated into English by Christopher Hampton the play has enjoyed considerable success around the world.

The play depicts a period when the long-standing friendship of its three characters, Serge, Marc and Ivan, is threatened when Serge (Shane Dundas) buys an expensive new painting. Pseudo-intellectual, Marc (Christopher Carroll) is unimpressed by Serge’s purchase and criticises the painting. Shocked by Marc’s criticism Serge seeks re-assurance from Yvan (Craig Alexander) who, although himself not particularly impressed by the painting, tries to plot a neutral course between the arguments of his two friends.

Shane Dundas as Serge in "ART"

These arguments about the very nature of art are at first entertaining and quite absorbing as both Serge and Marc struggle to justify their differing opinions. Eventually though the arguments begin to turn personal, and despite being more concerned with his own problems concerning his forth-coming marriage, Yvan finds himself becoming more and more entangled.

With three of Canberra’s most accomplished and experienced actors at her disposal, Director Shelly Higgs has devised a slick and very physical production for which most of the action takes place in Serge’s apartment. Imogen Keen has designed an elegant black and white setting for this apartment and incorporated an inventive lighting design by Gerry Corcoran and simple furniture re-arrangements to neatly encompass short scenes in other locales required by play.

Christopher Carroll (Marc) - Craig Alexander (Yvan) in "ART"

Christopher Carroll offers a polished performance as the self-appointed art expert, Marc.  Elegantly dressed, he struts and poses secure in his self-satisfied superiority. Shane Dundas fascinates as the fastidious, Serge, who has surprised himself by spending an inordinate amount on a painting by a reputable artist, but is insecure about his reasons for doing so. Dundas with his mobile face and physicality creates a warm, believable, if sometimes dangerously soft-spoken, presence to the role which contrasts engagingly with Carroll’s assertive Marc.

However it is Craig Alexander as Yvan who takes the most risks and in doing so puzzles with his curious choices, which ultimately upset the effectiveness of the production.

Perhaps in an effort to distract from the wordiness of the play, or to take advantage of opportunities offered by having skilled mime, Dundas, in the cast, director, Shelly Higgs has incorporated quite a lot of physicality in her production.

Craig Alexander as Yvan in "ART"

Alexander appears to have embraced this opportunity to explore the art of clowning. His character, Yvan, seems less interested in the arguments of his friends, than exploring every piece of on-stage furniture for its potential for a prat-fall or some other business to score a cheap laugh, often up-staging his colleagues and distracting the audience from the dialogue in the process.

This approach not only detracts from the cleverness of the writing, it also raises questions as to how either of the other characters, both obviously intelligent and educated, would have maintained a friendship with such an oafish character who exhibits no respect for either. The audience can only wonder why the chronically fastidious Serge, would even have allowed Yvan into his house, given his propensity to walk all over and trash his precious furnishings.

Given that the play is predicated on exploring art and friendship, if the audience are unable to believe that these three characters had previously maintained a fifteen-year friendship, the stitched-up happy ending which suggests the friendship will survive, becomes an even more difficult premise to accept.


                                             Images by Creswick Collective



 This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.