ART, Yasmina Reza, The Old Vic. 4/5
Director Matthew Warchus has reunited Art’s revered creative team, whose original performance in the West End in the 90s was met with wide acclaim and an extraordinary 600-show run, to bring Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award winning play back to London.
The lead character in Reza’s play is 4’ by 5’, white, with vertical white stripes. But it is anything but a blank canvas. Instead it offers a centre point around which three friends question the meaning of their relationship.
Serge (Rufus Sewell) is a middle-aged, slightly eccentric character who snaps up the minimalist painting for what he considers to be a very reasonable €100,000. His friends are not quite so sure.
Feeling threatened by his best friend Serge’s independence; Marc’s (Paul Ritter) jealousy provokes endless arguments between all three characters that provide a laugh followed by uncomfortable silence several times a scene.
Yvan (Tim Key) is Serge’s neurotic friend whose opinion of the painting is divided and he seems more preoccupied by his forthcoming marriage, which he isn’t overly enthusiastic about. Key gives an outstanding performance throughout, particularly when Yvan, made anxious by his marriage and the dilemma of putting his mother-in-law’s name on the invitation, gives a 10-minute rant whilst barely drawing a breath, in one of the shows most celebrated moments.
Whilst being hilarious on the surface, Art’s true meaning is hidden not so subtly between the lines, whether it’s Marc’s insecurity and anger, Serge’s craving for recognition or Yvan’s apparent indifference and neurosis. Many people will be able to relate to these characters within their own groups of friends, even without a one hundred thousand euro white-striped, white, painting.
At times the constant arguments become predictable but seeing as the play is only 90 minutes long, the rollercoaster of emotions leaves you captivated. If you’re not interested in the deeper points the play raises; ego; selfishness; neurosis and arrogance, then the pure comedy factor is well worth going to see.