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Art/Chichester Festival Theatre

I first saw Art some 25 years at the Wyndham Theatre with a strong cast of Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott. I remembered it as a comedy about the acquisition of a piece of expensive art being a totally white canvas for £200,000 and the effect of this on a group of old friends who regarded the buyer as off his trolley.

I thought young Parisienne writer Yasmina Reza was spoofing the art world.

The cast here at Chichester for the revival – Denis Lawson, Stephen Tomkinson and Nigel Havers – was not as strong.

I came away with different perceptions. The play is not so much about art but more friendships. The arguments that ensue amongst old friends following the acquisition creates a ‘gloves are off’ situation with insults liberally traded.

It’s still very funny.

There are a number of interesting features about the play. First, the route of the aspirant young writer is normally Edinburgh fringe, the Royal Court or Bush, not a sell-out run in Paris.

Sean Connery bought the rights, he must be happy as it grossed £200m worldwide, and Christopher Hampton translated it which presents a challenge as it’s a very French play. It is only 80 minutes long with no interval.

Aside from the picture, it’s 3 talking heads and any longer would have created longeurs. Finally, in a world where female assertion dominates cinema and theatre, it’s rather refreshing to see a play with just 3 males in it on the nature of male friendships.

Although we critics won’t admit it, we suffer as much as any with the various unforeseen travails that can affect one’s enjoyment.

Yesterday the restaurant I habitually use for Chichester, now the Harbour, took 45 minutes to serve the first course as the chef dropped the first cheese soufflé on the floor.

This meant I was hurrying against the clock and only arrived in my seat with a minute to spare.

Secondly, in the restaurant there was next to me a quartet of 4 elderly diners.

They were the sort who would have voted Brexit to reclaim a Britain which never existed. Their conversation was bitchy and I overheard the use of the word “tomboy” as presumably the user could not say gay.

Their apple crumbles were delayed too, which generated much criticism. So I was not in the mood to enjoy a comedy although I did appreciate the play.

On the way back the train was overcrowded with noisy travellers on their mobiles and youths behaving badly. This begs the question of “Is it worth it ?”

Yes but the play must be worth seeing. This one is.

About Tim Holford-Smith

Despite running his architectural practice full-time, Tim is a frequent theatre-goer and occasional am-dram producer. More Posts