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Art Review

Review by Darren Dalglish / 3rd May 1997

Having seen this comedy drama twice already, and since it was one of the best plays I saw last year, I was looking forward to seeing it again with the new cast who took over in March. My question! Would it be just as good? The performances of Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott from the original cast were so brilliant and perfect for the parts that I wondered if it was them who made the play seem better than it really was. My verdict is 'yes' and 'no'.

This play written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton has recently won both the Olivier and Evening Standard awards for Best Comedy.

The story is about three close friends, Marc, Serge and Yvan who have known one another for years. When Serge pays 200,000 Francs for a white painting, Marc doesn't approve, calling it "a piece of white shit" and accuses Serge of wasting his money. Yvan, on the other hand tries to be more positive about the painting, which annoys Marc who seems to have an 'hang up' about it. The painting acts as a catalyst to an argument which threatens to get out of control and destroy their relationship as they explore what their friendship means to one another.

The play, without doubt, is well written and contains many funny lines and scenes. However, whilst it is still entertaining, the new cast do not have the same bite as the original.

David Haig, who plays the derogatory and caustic Marc, gave the best performance. His timing was off a little on some of the lines, but he still performed the role adequately. So too did Mark Williams, who plays the vulnerable Yvan. Anton Lesser, who plays the casual, relaxed Serge, certainly copied Tom Courtenay, with no attempt to make the part his own. Maybe the producers wanted it this way? I know I was comparing the role more with this character than the others. However, it must be very difficult to follow a great original cast and overall they have done exceptionally well.

'Art' is still a wonderful comedy and absolutely stands on its own two feet without the likes of Finney, Courtenay and Stott. I think people who've not seen the comedy before will get more out of it than those that have already seen it with the original cast.


Review by Kristine Van Olst / March 97

I have seen "Art" twice now. And I could see it again and again. It is the best play I've seen in a very long time. The first time I saw it was with the original cast of Albert Finney, Tom Courtney and Ken Stott. It was stage acting at its finest. I loved the play, too, so when I was returning to London in March, I decided to see it again with the new cast.

I was not disappointed. David Haig, Anton Lesser and Mark Williams were terrific. While not as mesmorizing as the first trio, they were still heads above your standard theatre fare. None tried to copy his predecessor, but gave his part his own interpretation. They had been performing it for only a week when I saw it, so over the next few months it will be even better. I predict the play will become a classic, to be performed time and again over the years.

( Kristine Van Olst)

Reviews with the original cast of Albert Finney, Ken Stott,Tom Courtenay

Review by Darren Dalglish / 1st Dec 1996

Written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton this play is one of the best I've seen this year.

The story is about three close friends, Marc, Serge and Yvan who have known each other for years. However when Serge pays 200, 000 Francs for a painting that is basically just white, Marc calls it "a load of shit" and they start to argue. Then Yvan is brought into the argument which threatens to get out of control and destroy their relationship.

This play is superb in every way. It is funny, sad, and touching with some sensational acting from all three of the actors who compliment each other perfectly. Albert Finney is great as the derogatory and caustic Marc, with Tom Courtenay playing the casual, relaxed Serge, and Ken Stott playing the vulnerable Yvan .

The comedy is there from start to finish mixed in with the sentimental and sad , with some fantastic one liners brilliantly carried off to perfection.

This is not to missed!!
(Darren Dalglish)

Review by Kristine Van Olst / 9th Nov 96

"Art", starring Albert Finney, Tom Courtney, and Ken Stott is one of the finest plays I've seen. Seeing actors of this quality makes you realize what great acting is. The play is meaningful and funny. You will think about it for a long time afterwards.

Albert Finney is terrific in this role, as is Tom Courtney. And Ken Stott, who I had not seen before, more than keeps up. This is a "star making" role for him.

The other review at this site gives you a great description of what the play is about. I have heard that it is already "sold out" and only returns available. But I urge you to make an effort to this it. It is fantastic.
(Kristine Van Olst)

Review by Thomas Kobbermann / Jan 97

I viewed this production with great anticipation. I expected a drama as that it had been described by some. The billings at the theatre referred to it as a comedy. Obviously, it proved to be both.

In summary, it is a story of three friends. One, Tom Courtnay, buys a painting at great cost and of questionable merit. It is a white scene on a white background. His friend, Albert Finney, refers to it as "Shit" and is troubled by the fact that his friend would be so stupid. The third friend, Ken Stout, avoids conflict as he apparently always has and plays the middle. It proves to be a great look at friendships and all their frailties.

Since it is a French play, it must be seen in that vein. The one problem is that the play is French and the actors are very British. This proves to be mildly troublesome. Overall, it is a great success with all of the actors playing their part with great aplomb. I feel that Ken Stout was the real jewel of the production. His monologue about his upcoming marriage and their arrangement is a tour de force.

(Thomas Kobbermann)

The following review is from the run at the Whitehall Theatre

Art (currently playing at the Whitehall Theatre in its latest incarnation), is one of those plays that I happily revisit, which is lucky really, as my recent visit was my fourth helping. It is not that the plot is so deep that one always discovers new insights; rather it is the curiosity to see how the latest cast handles the parts. This was all the more the case on my last visit as Barry Foster who had been playing the part of Marc had sadly died from a heart attack, just days earlier. Yet despite this cloud that, no doubt, hung over the remaining two and Foster's understudy, this was another highly entertaining evening.

The plot is famously simple: Serge buys painting for 200,000 Francs; Marc finds painting extraordinarily wasteful (who wouldn't, after all, two hundred grand for a 5ft x 4ft entirely white canvass seems a bit steep, even in Francs), and tells Serge as such directly; Yvan ever the diplomat or spineless wimp (depending on your view) tries to mediate, and incurs wrath of his friends in the process. And so it goes...

But for me, whilst the plot is entertaining and surprisingly thought provoking in its examination of the deconstruction of longstanding friendships, it is the casting that always interests me. This time around Nigel Havers plays Serge the new owner of (in his eyes) the inspirational white rectangle. Charming and as smooth as ever, he is supremely believable in his indulgence. Yvan is played by Roger Lloyd Pack who is (and he probably hates this) best known as the put-upon Trigger from Only Fools and Horses, making him all the more credible as the butt of his friends' ire, and Paul Freeman the perfect understudy as the angry and infuriated Marc for whom Serge's painting is the ultimate in fatuous and wasteful indulgence.

Whether or not Yasmina Reza purposefully confined her play to one, 90 minute sprint to accommodate the short attention span and shrinking bladders of today's theatre-going audience, I don't know, but I always marvel at the way in which Art comes to its climax just as the audience is about to stampede for the exits.

Always fun, and always marvellously cast, Art deserves to be the comedic institution it has become.

Tom Keatinge

The following reviews are from the run at the Wyndham's Theatre)

Reviews with the cast of Paul Freeman, Patrick Duffy ,and Richard Thomas

Review by Darren Dalglish / 26th April 2000

It has been a few years since I last saw ART. In fact, I saw the original cast of Albert Finney, Tom Courtney and Ken Stott, who were all brilliant. When I saw the show with the second cast in 1997, the show had lost a little of its bite and thus I decided not to bother seeing any of the other cast changes. However, when I heard Patrick Duffy of "Dallas" fame and Richard Thomas of "The Waltons" were appearing, I thought this I cannot miss. After all these were two of my favourite TV programmes (Sad isn't it!!).

This is the 15th cast of the play since it opened in London in October 1996. Written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton, the story concerns Marc, Serge and Yvan who have been close friends for over 15 years. When Serge pays 200,000 Francs for a white painting, Marc doesn't approve, calling it "a piece of white shit" and tells Serge he has wasted his money. Yvan on the other hand tries to be more positive about the painting and tries to mediate, even though he too does not like the picture. However, the painting acts as a catalyst to an argument that threatens to get out of control and destroy their friendship.

So does this cast compare favourably with the original? Well, I have to say that it does not. None of the performers can match the timing of the original cast with the possible exception of Richard Thomas as 'Yvan'. But to be fair the original cast was as perfect as could be and thus I really should not be comparing. The fact is that this play is so well written that any competent actor would be able to carry it off and make it work. Duffy, Thomas and Freeman all perform convincingly and thus the show is still very amusing. The timing was out at times that meant a few scenes were not as funny as last time I saw them, but this did not spoil the enjoyment.

It took a while not to associate Duffy with 'Bobby Ewing' and Thomas with 'John Boy', but as testament to their acting skills this does not last long. There is a capable performance from Patrick Duffy who plays the casual, relaxed 'Serge', and Paul Freeman is effective as the dominant, sarcastic 'Marc'. However, Richard Thomas produces the best performance playing the vulnerable 'Yvan'. He has the most demanding part and Thomas excels with flying colours.

It is very clever of the producers to change the cast every three months or so. It helps keep the show fresh and it also helps at the box office, particularly when you cast well-known stars.

After 4 years ART is still fresh and superb with funny, sad, and touching scenes. If you still have not seen it then go see it now!

(Darren Dalglish)

Reviews with the cast of David Haig, Anton Lesser and Mark Williams

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