Play tour goes artfully on its way

Art: Yasmina Reza, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds Rural Tour Suffolk village halls don't usually host a play that was running in the West End until five years ago.

Ivan Howlett

Art: Yasmina Reza, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds Rural Tour

Suffolk village halls don't usually host a play that was running in the West End until five years ago. Those venues, mainly in Suffolk but in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk too, that are taking Art, the Theatre Royal's tenth rural touring show will be doing just that. And they'll have a cracking, cleverly written and well-performed production to see.

Plays of ideas can sometimes be pretty wordy and slow. Not this one. Yasmina Reza's three-hander, translated from the French by Christopher Hampton is deep, yes. But it's also witty, funny and dynamic, inviting actors to enjoy the power of the writing. This is, no doubt, why the first London cast starred Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott.


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The premise seems simple. Three long time Parisian friends, intelligent professionals - Serge (Michael Onslow) a dermatologist, aeronautical engineer Marc (Richard Tunley) and Yvan (James Bellorini) who's about to get married - have a falling out about art.

Marc becomes uneasy because Serge has bought a new painting. It's white with white lines on it and is by a fashionable artist, Antrios. A modernist, Serge thinks its brilliant. Marc, with a classical orientation, thinks it's so much worse than rubbish their very friendship is threatened. Yvan tries to mediate and gets it in the neck from both of them for weakness and vacillation.

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A series of short episodes - monologues addressed to the audience and dialogues in each of their flats - culminate in what was going to be a friendly night out for all three.

It turns out to be the dramatic all-action crunch night involving vitriolic insult, tears, a walk-out, a fight, and even a truce moment in which they sit together eating olives.

The art argument is a fascinating one. Throughout the twentieth century the art world's cutting edge has moved away from the generally accessible. Modernism, the abstract, Dadism, atonality and serialism in music, and latterly conceptualism and deconstructionism - more appropriate in a builder's yard, sneers Marc - have opened the gulf between those interested in the arts.

For the three, it's about more than just artistic taste. The whole basis of the friendship is at issue. Its about arrogance, gullibility, trust, love and hurt. Absolutely everything is drawn into the fascinating three-way battle.

Director Abigail Anderson brings us is a funny, satisfying and stimulating 90 minute wonder. It should go down well on its travels.

Ivan Howlett

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