Art – Review – East Riding Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, October 2018
The simple question of ‘Is it Art?’ has been the start of many an argument and discussion down the years, and that is the simple opening premise of this production of Yasmina Reza’s Art at the East Riding Theatre in Beverley.
The original run in the West End and Broadway in the mid-to-late 1990s garnered a whole host of awards and any number of outstanding actors taking on the roles of three friends, Serge, Marc and Yvan, whose time on stage is spent discussing the piece of art in question. Is it an outstanding example of modern painting, as Serge would have it? Or just a ‘white piece of sh*t’ as Marc so bluntly declares. Take those polar opposites and stick Yvan somewhere in the middle, and there you have it. Three friends on stage for 90 minutes, held together by the painting we see before us.
“Actors at the top of their game”
But that’s not it – in fact that’s not even the half of it. As with the simplest of premises, this has so much more depth to it and the story isn’t about the painting at all, but about how its very existence brings out the different characteristics of the three friends, and whether their relationships can ever be the same again once their true feelings come to the surface. Each of the characters speaks directly to the audience regularly, offering the views to us that they dare not share with their friends, no matter how close they may have been. Most of the scenes are two-handers, with one notable one in which all three friends are together on stage, all played out in just one act.
To bring such a production alive, all three of the actors have to be at their top of their games, and thankfully that was the case here. Director Martin Hutson has brought together three ERT stalwarts – Malcolm Tomlinson, Richard Avery and Clive Kneller – and each of them slipped effortlessly into their roles, with each in turn proving sane and the voice of reason, or being completely unreasonable and frustrating depending on your opinion.
“Thought-provoking and challenging”
Avery as Marc is the one to shatter the illusions of Serge (Tomlinson) as to the quality of his new painting, with Kneller’s Yvan trying to be all things to all men and staying as much in the middle as he possibly can. There’s a fantastic intimacy to the play, always helped by the wonderful atmosphere created at the ERT, with just one set and three men, and it’s possible to feel sympathy with all three at different points.
The production is thought-provoking and challenging, tackling the subject of long-term friendship and whether it can be possible to put aside one’s true feelings, even over something so trivial as a painting, and still remain friends long into old age. With such a talented cast, it’s well worth a trip to the ERT to find out for yourself what the fuss is about with this mini masterpiece.
images: Gavin Prest Photography