Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Currently, you may not know much about ‘Art’, but here’s what you’ll like: three confident performers delivering slick wit with skill and humour.
Yasmina Reza’s play about an aesthete buying a ‘white’ painting, and the various reactions to that purchase, can be interpreted – and presented in a variety of ways. It really is – to coin a phrase – a blank canvas, allowing the audience to decide what character they agree with, who they think is speaking more sense.
This production from Article 19 is more decisive: for a start, the painting in question is almost certainly actually white (as opposed to the script’s clearly stated direction that it has a couple of subtle ‘scars’), meaning that when Serge denies the fact, the derisive laughter that judges him comes from the audience as well as his friends. Just as important, however, is the marvellous characterisation of Marc from David Mouriguand, one of the most natural and unfussy actors we’ve seen. Despite (or, perhaps, because of) his opening mood of bored aggression, this production clearly pitches Marc as the sole voice of reason, attempting in vain to reason with his deluded friends. It’s a credit to the strength of Mourigand’s performance that even if, like this reviewer, you don’t necessarily agree with the idea that Marc is the only kid seeing past the Emperor’s New Clothes, you can’t help being won over by his charm.
Making Marc so firmly the one to listen to gives Danny Fisher and Benjamin Darlington (as Serge and Yvan, respectively) less wriggle-room to add shade and colour to their portrayals, but they excel as the proud gallery freak in Serge, and the nervous, brow-beaten Yvan, all clinging desperately to their strongly held beliefs. Of course, the script is ahead of them – when an important action takes places towards the end of the play, there’s an audible gasp from the audience, proving that even if we’ve laughed at Yvan’s painting, we have already begun to care deeply about it.
There are some gorgeous directorial brushstrokes on display here – the childish glee on hiding somebody’s pen lid, a great scene when Yvan has to nervously practice his spontaneous reaction to seeing his friend’s painting, alongside many other little moments of genius.
Art, of course, goes in and out of fashion – and so do most friendships, which is what’s at the heart of this play, and indeed, this production. There really is a thin line between love and hate – as thin as a white scar on a white painting, in fact – and these three actors demonstrate this brilliantly, always convincing us that these are old friends who could equally hug each other as hit each other. A minor masterpiece.