I have always had an interest in Art, after attending Art school I began studying the History of Art and I have continued to draw and paint whenever the mood takes me. I have never struggled to enjoy and appreciate the vagaries of Modern Art. Tracey Emin`s unmade `My Bed` or Carl Andre`s controversial 120 firebricks have always ranked in my eyes as important and as interesting as Van Gogh`s Sunflowers or Michaengelos` David.

Three men.
Three friends.
One white painting.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I went along to the Royal & Derngate, Northampton to watch ART, one of the most successful plays ever. When the play originally opened twenty-two years ago it took the West End and Broadway by storm, winning Olivier, Tony, Moliere and every other major theatre award at the time. It has been packing in audiences worldwide ever since.

ART - Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers & Denis Lawson (4) credit Matt Crockett
Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson), Serge (Nigel Havers) & Marc (Denis Lawson)

The play is centred around a “painting” of white lines on a white canvas that Serge (Nigel Havers) had spent an extortionate amount of money on buying, much to the obvious amusement and bewilderment of two of his long-time friends.

Marc (Denis Lawson) and Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson) are baffled as to why their friend should want to acquire this `piece of white shit`! It must be said that the play is as much about `male friendship` as it is about the appreciation for or lack of,  for modern Art!

Art is a French-language play by Yasmina Reza that premiered in 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The play subsequently ran in London in 1996 and on Broadway in 1998.

What I particularly liked about the play was that it wasn’t trying to convince you about accepting any of the three men’s views on Art or friendship. You are left to ponder the sometimes-confusing passage of insults and despair to make up your own mind. It is a very funny play, I visit the theatre regularly and I have not laughed openly as much as I did on this evening.

ART - Stephen Tompkinson, Denis Lawson & Nigel Havers credit Matt Crockett
Yvan, Marc & Serge discuss the merits of the painting!

On one occasion, for which Tompkinson was applauded wildly, an embarrassingly long outburst about his upcoming wedding plans is concluded by just three words from Marc, `And then what? It was classic comedic timing which was then followed by an almost surreal moment involving a bowl of olives, in which no one spoke but the sound of the stones being dropped back into a dish. Brilliant comedy.

At just ninety minutes long without an interval, it is comedy theatre at its best. Art is not necessarily a play for those people that love and appreciate Art because it is also a play about relationships, friendship, loyalty, the difficulty and value of telling the truth and much, much more! Not to be missed.

ART - Nigel Havers (1) credit Matt Crockett
Serge – Nigel Havers

Playing the part of Serge, Nigel Havers has starred in many television productions, including more recently Coronation Street, Benidorm and Downton Abbey. His films include Chariots of Fire, A Passage to India and Empire of the Sun. Extensive theatre work includes The Importance of Being Earnest and Harold Pinter’s Family Voices, both directed by Sir Peter Hall for the National Theatre.

Denis Lawson, who plays Marc, is known for TV roles such as DI Steve McAndrew in BBC1’s hit series New Tricks. In film, his notable credits include the roles of Gordon Urquhart in the film Local Hero. On stage, he won an Olivier for his performance in Mr Cinders was Olivier-nominated for La Cages Aux Folles.

The play premiered on 28 October 1994 at Comédie des Champs-Élysées in Paris. The English-language adaptation, translated by Christopher Hampton, opened in London‘s West End on 15 October 1996, starring Albert FinneyTom Courtenay and Ken Stott, produced by David Pugh and Sean Connery, running for eight years.

Playing Yvan, Stephen Tompkinson’s screen credits include the TV series DCI Banks, Trollied, Wild at Heart, Drop the Dead Donkey and Ballykissangel, and the film Brassed Off. His theatre work includes Spamalot, Rattle of a Simple Man and Arsenic and Old Lace in the West End.

Art takes to the Royal & Derngate from Monday 14 to Saturday 19 May, at 7.30pm with matinees at 2.30pm on Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets – priced from £13 to £35.50* – can be booked by calling Box Office on 01604 624811 or online at www.royalandderngate.co.uk.

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Photography Credit: Matt Crockett