Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Nigel Havers is Serge. He has bought a painting. It’s a large canvas of ostensibly pure white. It cost him £200,000. It’s a bit pretentious. He’s very proud of it.
Denis Lawson is his friend Marc. Marc thinks the painting is ridiculous and a waste of money, but he doesn’t immediately tell Serge.
Stephen Tompkinson is Yvan, friend to both men. He’s on the fence. He quite likes the painting, but thinks it was probably a bit too expensive. He isn’t completely frank about his opinions either.
They’ve been friends for decades, but all three think one or the other has changed over the years and has lost their sense of humour.
What follows is 90 minutes of jokes, jibes, secrets and lies, delivered by three phenomenal actors.
Art was originally written and performed in French, and Rasmina Reza’s play maintains a Gallic sensibility; not least because of the characters’ names. There’s something about the tenor of the conversations that says they’d be more at home in a Parisian apartment than an English home.
There is no interval, which might not work for most shows, but most shows are too long. At just a hour-and-a-half, Art doesn’t need the pace spoiled by a gap in the middle. In that respect, it’s pretty much perfect.
All three men are excellent, and there’s definite novelty in hearing Nigel Havers throw expletives around, but the star is Tompkinson. He does the emotional heavy-lifting, and his lengthy, energetic monologue about his forthcoming wedding is a thing of beauty.
The play is funny, but not hilarious and it’s a little smug at times – like a Radio 4 comedy with more swearing.
Art has been on display in the UK since 1996, and even if the script doesn’t encourage future visits, changes in the cast will. With just three players, each new member will colour the production in their own way.