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Wanna buy some pegs Dave? Yes, I am a League of Gentlemen fan (if you're not, the above will make no sense whatsoever - and even if you are, I'm not entirely sure that it does anyway). When I saw that the League had been signed up as the next - and final - cast in the production Art at the Whitehall Theatre, I decided to go along. I didn't know a lot about the play - and I certainly wasn't expecting to see Tubbs and Edward wittering away in their Local Shop - so I did a bit of research after I'd booked my ticket (I'm no theatre buff, after all) and I went with an open mind. Art is a Parisian play and it won its playwright Yasima Reza an Olivier award and an Evening Standard award for Best Comedy. It opened at the Comédie des Champs Elysées in 1994, where Sean Connery saw it and liked it so much that he decided to back an English version, asking Christopher Hampton to translate the script. It arrived in London at Wyndham's Theatre in 1996 and has since toured the US as well as being performed in Sydney, Buenos Aires, Poland, Iarael, India, South Africa, Bermuda, Portugal and Singapore - and the English language version has even been performed in Paris, too! Art has three characters and a cast that changes every few months or so. All sorts of people have performed in the production so far, from Albert Finney and Tom Courtney to Jamie Theakston and Frank Skinner. Each cast, I should imagine, lends its own chemistry and characterisation to the script, which I'm sure the actors all interpret differently. The actors are usually given three weeks to prepare for the play - a week to get to know each other, and two weeks to rehearse. In the case of Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss - otherwise known as the League of Gentlemen - two weeks was thought to be sufficient: they've known each other for twenty years already. The morning after I'd seen the production I sou
ght out reviews on the internet and found a particularly scathing piece on the BBC site, in which Alexandra Fouché says: "..one is left wondering what the contribution of the famous trio is to this quintessentially Parisian play. The Northern accents do not quite ring true in the sophisticated setting of a Paris apartment..." I did say I wasn't a theatre buff. Clearly the reviewer above was, and perhaps she knows something I don't; perhaps she was looking for something I was not aware the audience was supposed to see. I really enjoyed Art, and judging from the enthusiastic reception that the trio got at the end of the show, I wasn't the only one. Maybe nobody else was a theatre buff either. So what's it about? Essentially, the play explores friendships. How they can be tested, unsettled and questioned. "What binds me to you?", says one of the characters to another mid-way through the play. What does friendship mean? How is it tested? The play begins with Marc (Steve Pemberton, AKA Pauline/Tubbs in the League) sitting alone on a minimalistic set, announcing that his friend Serge (Marc Gatiss, AKA Hilary Briss; Mr Chinnery) has bought a painting. Said painting has cost an inordinate amount of cash, and Marc is not impressed: in fact, he almost seems to see it as some sort of personal affront. In the next scene, the painting - am all-white canvas which Serge insists is full of several different, subtle colours - is unveiled to the audience, Marc tells Serge exactly what he thinks of it, and they fall out. Afterwards we meet Yvan (Reece Shearmisth, AKA Edward; Papa Lazarous), a put-upon, soon-to-be-married young man who finds himself caught between his two friends. Art goes on to explore the way in which the three characters interact and examine their relationships, their friendship brought into a state of flux by the painting. The chemistry between the three is fantastic, and alth
ough this isn't the League of Gentlemen you probably will notice shades of Pauline in Marc and Geoff Tipps in angst-ridden Yvan, who - like Geoff - is liable to tip over the edge at any given moment. Mark Gatiss plays Serge with an assured sort of aloofness: self-satisfied, smug and condescending; Steve Pemberton is great as stressed-out Marc, whose pride is hurt by the painting and the importance Serge attaches to it. But the real star of the show, for me, was Reece Shearsmith, whose exasperated Yvan was fantastic, particularly a stunning ten minute rant about his mother-in-law, flawlessly delivered. It was a brilliant performance - touching, thought-provoking and hilarious (if you thought the sight of three people eating olives in silence couldn't possibly have you in stitches, then think again). The spartan set and coloured lighting suits the production well, and the sound was clear, even at the back where we sat. I'd certainly recommend this play; I think any League of Gentlemen fan will enjoy the performance of the trio - don't be taken in by the Beeb's snobbery! Art is on at the Whitehall Theatre until January 4th 2003. The production has an out-of-date website at www.art-theatre.net and the box office number is 020 7369 1735. Tickets can also be booked online at www.ticketmaster.co.uk. Prices vary, but our seats were £30 each. Beck's Tips: ============ - If you're coming into London from Waterloo and it's not raining, walk to the theatre instead of getting the Tube. The Whitehall is only a 10-15 minute walk and it takes in the new Hungerford Bridge, which looks fantastic swathed in blue light at night. Much nicer than the stuffy, smelly Underground (and train tickets without the Tube are cheaper as well). - If you're early and fancy a drink then don't go into the foyer bar - there is a Wetherspoon's next door to the theatre which is far cheaper! - Ne
arby restaurants include Pizza Express on the Strand, but arrive there in plenty of time otherwise you'll not get a table (we went on a Wednesday evening and it was packed). If you haven't time for a proper meal then head to Pret a Manger, also on the Strand, for fresh sandwiches and lovely cakes. We did!). - Don't take any notice of the BBC review!
I have wanted to see this play for some time, but had never got around to booking tickets. I'd often seen it advertised on the tube, always the same pictures - three soberly dressed men against a stark white background, spraycans in hand, the word 'Art' sprawled above them in huge, colourful letters. The cast is constantly changing, with actors playing the role for no more than a few weeks at a time, and this intrigued me. Most plays in London try to hang onto their famous actors/actresses in order to establish a reputation and ensure a good number of theatregoers, but 'Art' seemed to continually attract very reputable actors AND a constant supply of theatregoers eager to see the play. How does it manage it? What's its appeal? *** HISTORY OF 'ART' There's an interesting story behind the London production of 'Art'. 'Art' was originally performed in Paris, at the Comedie des Champs Elysess, in 1994. Sean Connery happened to see the play there, and was so impressed that he set about establishing an English language version, which was first performed in London in 1996. It was an immediate success, and has won many awards since that first showing, including the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy. The English language version of the play has since been performed in several different countries, including India, Singapore and South Africa. *** THE STORY Serge, a successful Businessman and self confessed art 'connoisseur' buys a painting by a famous artist for 200,000 francs. The painting is white, on a white background with faint white horizontal stripes. Basically, it's a white square. Serge proudly shows his new painting to his friend, Marc, who offends him by laughing at it and calling it a "piece of shit". From their conversation, the audience gradually realize that there?s some serious tension between the two friends.
We're then introduced to Yvan, their eccentric mutual friend, who is one of those people who sits on the fence, and adjusts his point of view to suit the company he's in. A feud is established, all over the significance and relative merits of this ridiculously expensive white square painting. Marc refuses to accept that Serge is 'moved' by the painting and can't accept their difference of opinion. He sees the painting as representing all the tension and problems in his friendship with Serge. Yvan is having relationship and pre-wedding problems, and doesn't want to get involved in the argument between his two closest friends, but he's drawn in, implicated, and gradually all three men begin to learn about the nature of friendship and the importance of change. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it's a real cracker, and had the whole audience in fits of laughter. The mood of the play veers from extremely funny to poignant and moving. For laughter, there's Yvans' hysterical rant about whose names should go on his wedding invitations, and the superb ending. For deep emotion we have Marcs admission that he thinks the painting means more to Serge than their friendship, and Yvans breakdown as he confesses that he has never liked his role as 'the joker' of the bunch. *** THE PERFORMERS In the performance I saw, the character of Serge was played by Jamie Theakston, Marc was played by Stephen Mcgann, and Yvan by Christopher Luscombe. I thought that all three performers did a sterling job. Theakston was excellent as the attractive, wry, slightly insecure Serge, Mcgann impressive as the aggressive Marc, prone to outbursts and frantic, hyperactive movement. However, the star of the show, as far as I was concerned, was Christopher Luscombe as Yvan. I instantly warmed to this funny little man with his eccentric way of speaking and unintentionally humourous expression.
He held the show together, the glue doing his best to bring his increasingly estranged friends together. I would love to see this show again, with different actors playing all three parts. I'd also love to see the show performed with three female characters instead of male, as I think it would be interesting to see how the dynamics of the relationships were different. I definitely intend to see it again, and that's the beauty of this show - because the actors are constantly being replaced, it's a different experience every time. *** THE SET The set was simple but effective. A white background (mirroring the white of the painting) with two white chairs and a table, and, of course, the painting, which is brought out with great ceremony by Serge at various key moments, and captures the audience's attention in an almost hypnotic way - we, too, want to understand what Serge sees in this blank square. The 'white room' is used alternately to represent Serge, Marc and Yvan's living space. When we're in Marc's flat, a detailed landscape is hung on the wall to demonstrate Marc's classical tastes. It's like an exclamation mark in the centre of the room, and echoes Marc's frequent passionate and colourful outbursts. As Marc is the protagonist in the play, this burst of colour is quite appropriate - the complete opposite of Serge's white square. *** OVERALL IMPRESSION I really enjoyed this play. It's a comedy, and a very funny one, but it also raises some important questions about the nature of friendship and how we view ourselves, through other peoples eyes. The dialogue is witty and engaging, the scenes are short and designed to keep the audience's attention, and the set perfectly reflected the subject matter. I'd recommend this play to everyone, not just people who are interested in art. It will leave you with a lot to think about.
*** THE THEATRE 'Art' is currently being staged at the Whitehall Theatre, 14 Whitehall, London SW1 2DY. You an contact the box office on 0207 369 1735. The Whitehall is a small, comfortable theatre just off Trafalgar Square. We had tickets in the stalls, and waited in the Stalls bar prior to our performance, which offers a decent range of drinks (but hardly any seating, so don't arrive too early) and confectionery. There's no interval during the performance, but you can take drinks in with you in plastic cups. The seats were rather close and cramped, but no more than most other London theatres. Tickets for 'Art' cost between £12.50 and £35.
'Art' is one of those rare beasts, theatrically, an intelligent comedy which does not patronise the audience and allows you to laugh at the character's stupidity and intransigence, whilst recognising those stubborn characteristics which resonate a little in all of us. Perhaps we are laughing at those parts that we recognise in ourselves and our friendships. This play is a three-hander, and it is about a man who buys an expensive painting of a white canvas. The three men are all friends who have very different reactions to this piece of modern 'art' and the reactions typify their outlooks on life in a wider context. The 'work of art' causes argument and angst and a dissection of the nature of their relationships with each other and the values which they have. The play then, is more an examination of the nature of relationships and friendship and than having a clear and distinct storyline where 'x' happens and then 'y' happens, but the play never becomes too serious although it has it's moments. The cast changes with a fair regularity. I have seen the most recent cast with Sean Hughes, but the strength of the writing means that each cast can add it's own interpretation. It is a one-act play, and so runs without an interval, lasting roughly an hour and a half, so probably not suitable for restless children (there was one sitting in front of me and I did feel a little sorry for her). Otherwise, I'd definitely recommend it. I went to see it with two of my friends and it provided ample scope for discussion afterwards, which as far as I'm concerned is always the sign of a good play.
I went to see "Art" in London, starring Michael French (from "Eastenders" & "Holby City") and thought it was fantastic. I have seen many plays recently, and this one has been my favourite along with the Donmar's "Helpless". It is not hysterically funny, but very original and the dialogue is brilliant. The stars I saw doing it, were all great and I'm sure the stars who are in it at the moment are aswell. The funniest and best part is the last scene, which we found superb. If you are into plays, then do not miss this one. It has fantastic reviews and it sure to be going for a long time. I believe it's still on at many theatres around the country but you've all missed it with Michael French and Stephen Tompkinson!
Art is the massively successful West End play that will probably run forever. What is great about it is that it does actually live up to all the hype. The play is about what happens when two friends differ in their opinion of a piece of modern art. Well, this is superficially what the play is about, but the real issue is the friendship between the three characters in the play. Art won loads of awards when it first came out and I think they were all well-deserved. The writing is brilliant as is the direction. I saw the original cast (Albert Finney, Tom Courteney and Ken Stott) and when they left many people felt that the play would have to close. Art has had numerous cast changes since then and each cast seems to have made a success of the roles. This is an elegant, beautifully written play and you will care what happens to the characters. I would definitely recommend it.