Newest Review: ... perhaps she was looking for something I was not aware the audience was supposed to see. I really enjoyed Art, and judging from the e... more
Member Name: beckstrous
Date: 28/10/02, updated on 28/10/02 (210 review reads)
Advantages: Great cast
Disadvantages: Bit pricey
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.
- 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!
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!
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