Skip to main content

Review of Art at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

As the audience arrives for Art, they are presented high on the stage with the back of a painting. On closer inspection, it has none of the labels or stamps that art buffs like them to have, to form a quality provenance for the future. The back of this artwork is indeed a blank canvas (five feet by four). Turns out, when we finally see the front of it, it is also a blank canvas, but don't let Serge (Nigel Havers) hear you say that.

Yasmina Reza's script (translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton) is razor sharp, a joyous rollercoaster of pace, wit and verbal hostility, showing no signs of ageing after 20 years. This is a sparring match, where words are the punches, with just one moment of physical blows in the swift 80 minutes runtime. It's a tale about friendship, which uses a "white" painting as it's backdrop, and the way friendships can collapse over the most ridiculous reasons.

Not to say, someone spending £200,000 on a white painting isn't slightly ridiculous, and enough to fire up an argument, however, this is the touchpaper, nothing more to ignite things that have clearly been repressed for some time. How these three became friends is not clear, but we quickly see this friendship decline over Serge's painting purchase and then Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson) is turned on by both Serge and Marc (Denis Lawson) for his over-sharing of his personal problems.

Art provides three brilliant characters for these actors to get their teeth into, and this touring show has three of the best around with decades of experience between them, and it shows. The youngster of the three, Stephen Tompkinson is a particular revelation here if you have only ever seen him in his assortment of television shows. As Yvan, the effectively common part of the trio, he elicits much of the audiences love. Whether he is receiving a very well deserved round of applause midshow following his expert delivery of a fast-paced four-minute monologue, or gaining the sympathy of the audience as he sits, head buried in a towel, he is the audiences champion without any doubt.

Denis Lawson's Marc gains slightly less sympathy, although perhaps many of us might be onboard with his opinion as we squint to see the colours hidden within the painting. I have always been an immense fan of Lawson on screen, and to finally get to see him live, is something very special, and as Marc, he is viciously wicked in his full-on opinions, and while we might squirm a little as he holds the felt pen late in the play, a lot of us may well have a little of "go on, my son" going on in our heads.

Nigel Haver's Serge is very much a Haver's creation, perfectly suited to the role, looking sharp and debonair, still very much the charmer. The script goes off a little from the Haver's we might remember though when it all gets surprisingly sweary later on. However, Haver's still manages to have a certain amount of grace even as he tussles physically, and descends into childish insults, undeserving of his sharp suit.

The set from Mark Thompson is simple, clean lines, but towering in presence, rising into the top reaches of the stage, it creates each of the three homes with the simple spin of one wall and a different painting. Three different chairs and a sturdy table, often acting as a perch for the characters, adorn the room. It is stark, clinical, and perfect for the show, and absolutely no place for Yvan's missing felt pen lid to hide.

There is some brilliant and perfect music from Gary Yeshon bridging the scenes, with sharp notes switching perfectly timed with Hugh Vanstone's quality lighting. Wafting into the building crisp sunbeams, very likely indeed to water down the prized painting.

Director Ellie Jones has kept everything simple, creating scenes like little works of art in themselves. As Yvan spills his personal problems, Serge and Marc become no distraction. Then later as they consume olives, it's all perfectly timed and placed. The three actors are at the top of their game here. The moments where they switch from ranting through the fourth wall and back into the conversation they just left are stunningly timed.

Art is funny, really funny in fact and while it is relatively short at 80 minutes, you don't feel shortchanged. An amazingly observant script, delivered with panache and brilliant pace by three superb actors. It's almost a privilege to witness it.

A fine and exquisite piece of Art in itself.

Performance reviewed: Monday 14th May 2018 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
Art runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 19th May 2018 before continuing its tour. Details at
For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at

Photos: Matt Crockett

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Education, Education, Education at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

This touring show from The Wardrobe Ensemble arrives at Northampton (a co-production location) with a substantial amount of success, proudly displaying on the programmes back cover ten review ratings featuring 43 stars from a possible 50. However not wishing to be swayed by such incredible past form, I settled in the Royal to attempt to form my own opinion of the situation blinkered as much as possible from the stars shining bright.

Education, Education, Education (henceforth known as Education. Phew!) is set on the day after the day before of Tony Blair and his New Labour sweeping to power in May 1997. We are in a "normal" comprehensive school as a new day, and a new hope dawns for the teachers and pupils alike. Flushed with this hope and a Eurovision win, things clearly will only get better. Or will they?

Education ticks a number of theatres loves for me early on, with superb use of music, sharp scene changes and best of all a quite brilliant series of movement pieces thro…

Review of The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde at Hackleton Village Hall, Hackleton

In pursuit of even more theatre, I ventured out to Hackleton to experience theatre company Group Eight for the first time, and their version of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (adapted here by Noah Smith).

The first observation, and not from a production point, is how neat this adaptation of the story is by Noah Smith. It keeps the mysterious world of Dr Jekyll and his experimental attempts of unlocking his dark side but also fleshes out the world around him. We have two incorporated narrators, Shelly and Stoker (no prizes for guessing where those names came from, and simply Maid and Butler in the original Smith version), who give us locations and inner thoughts as well as scene changing. They are very much the unnamed narrator of the original embodied. Also while we have the standard "Three Musketeers" of Lanyon, Utterson, and Jekyll himself, the character of Enfield is fleshed out far beyond the original, and with his new lady, Helen …

Review of Les Misérables: School Edition (NMTC Youth Society) at the Cripps Hall Theatre, Northampton

From my four years or so of watching theatre in Northampton, there is one thing beyond the huge professional shows that I see touring, that I always enjoy so much more (despite the occasional dodginess of the quality), and that is youth theatre. For me in my heart, it adds something special, here we have the often maligned young of today, getting out there and doing something truly fulfilling. Here though, with the debut of the newly formed Youth Society, spinning off from the adult Northampton Musical Theatre Company, we have something also which goes beyond enthusiasm of the young to create a really special piece of theatre.

Les Misérables is in the top three of musicals for me, I love its huge numbers, I connect to its story, and it has some extremely strong characters, for me, it just works. Therefore, you could say that I would have an immediate bias towards this show, however, I do feel protective of it as well, so, it needs to be done right. However, I have nothing to worry abo…