Look Closely

Five stars
Information: 3rd-7th Feb at 19:30, Burton Taylor Studio. Price £4.

Yasmina Reza may be one of the internationally most performed living playwrights, but her fortunes are more uneven in her native France, where left-leaning critics often dismiss her as irredeemably bourgeois.
Her comedy Art is a case in point; in it, three comfortably off men are facing up to mid-life crisis and spend most of the play bickering about art and suffering at the hands of each others’ egos. The MacGuffin of the play is a completely white canvass, which one of them, Serge, buys for 20,000 francs, only to incur the contempt and ridicule of his more conservative friend Marc. Not only then does Reza commit the crime of setting her play in a completely unsubversive environment, she also dares to belittle the aesthetic worth of contemporary art.

This assessment, however, is unfair. As Reza herself pointed out once in an interview, it is the “subversive” contemporary art, which is the mainstream now, and if anything, going against the grain consists of querying its value rather than blindly lauding it.

This production, directed by Guy Levin, promises to give Art an enjoyable staging, thanks particularly to the strong performances of the three-strong cast. Matt Osman is especially convincing as the traditionalist Marc, bitterly resentful that his friend Serge (Jonathan Rhodes) has taken a liking to pretentious art and the unqualified use of fashionable intellecutalist terms, like “deconstruction”. Serge, on the other hand, can’t stand Marc’s oppressive, patronising attitude. Caught in the middle is Yvan (Frankie Parham), the bubbling, but spineless clown of the group.

Much of the humour derives from the snide asides that the increasingly infuriated friends make about each other and the comedy of their imperfect characters. Parham’s Yvan is quite hilarious in his hyper-active, affected manner, while Serge’s high-minded artistic ideals are exposed as narcissism when he muses that the Pompidou has three paintings by the same artist (incidentally, I’ve been to the Pompidou recently and there actually are three completely white canvasses there, by Robert Ryman).

Related  Sutherland-scapes

It might not be in-yer-face theatre or body-art, but Art tells us a good deal about the confusions and frustrations of contemporary society, even if mostly of the segment that is middle-aged and middle-class. It might even provide its audience here with a taste of things to come. But, whatever it may be, it is far from being reactionary: Art is a clever, watchable and witty piece and deserves to be seen.