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.
½

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 http://arttheplay.com/
For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at royalandderngate.co.uk

Photos: Matt Crockett

Popular posts from this blog

Review of the University Of Northampton BA (Hons) Acting Graduate Showcase at Leicester Square Theatre, London

The Graduate Showcase was pretty exciting even for me, so heaven knows how it was for the actors actually taking part. Here I was in a gathering of around twenty people (all others infinitely more important than me) at a special closed event at a West End theatre, complete with free drinks and buffet. Fortunately I had Mr Jim aka @mudbeast76 to keep me on the straight and narrow of juices after the one alcoholic one went straight to the head drink. Then as if it wasn't a surreal world as it was, there only goes and walks in Lukewarm himself, Christopher Biggins!

However, this isn't about me, this is about the thirty six ultra talented individuals who after I have followed them for a bit over a year are about to venture forth into the big competitive world of the acting community. They have though the double advantage of not only coming through the excellent three years University Of Northampton training and also being rather talented to help them in this.

This being my first s…

Review of Touching The Void at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

For those unfamiliar with this story, this review tells more than you might want to know ahead of seeing it. So, the short review for those who don't know the story of Joe Simpson, go and see this play and then come and read this review if you wish.

Staging the 1985 tale of Joe Simpson and his somewhat unbelievable, if it wasn't true, escape from surviving three days without food and water, a 150 foot fall previous, and following breaking his leg a previous, previous, seems an insurmountable challenge, but with the clever work of writer David Greig, director Tom Morris, and designer Ti Green and the rest of the creative team, we manage during a long and pulsating evening of theatre to reach that peak.

Following a short sequence of flashes of what is to come, we join Simon (Edward Hayter), Richard (Patrick McNamee) and Sarah (Fiona Hampton) at the wake of Joe Simpson, imagined for the stage and a neat way of introducing us to the story. Here Sarah, Joe's sister becomes the …

Review of Benidorm Live at Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes

I arrived at Milton Keynes Theatre to see this touring stage version of ITV comedy hit Benidorm with a distinct lack of knowledge. Having never seen the show, my information stretched as far as knowing it was set in a holiday resort in Spain (the title helps there), and that the humour generally resorted to the cruder end of the spectrum. However, having graced the screens for ten years, it was clear that Derren Litten's show had garnered quite a following, and indeed it was clear from the reception of the audience on the night, that this following was pretty much filling the theatre.

The plot, such as it is for this stage show, is very much drafted from an episode of Fawlty Towers, and made a great deal more adult with its humour. The hotel manager, Joyce Temple-Savage (a sharp performance by Sherrie Hewson) gets wind that a hotel inspector is in, and the scene is set for seeking them out and all the obvious cases of mistaken identity. It's thin and doesn't fill the show,…