Thursday 13th July to Saturday 15th July and Tuesday 18th July to Saturday 22nd July 2006
Directed by Robin Hall
Serge, Marc and Yvan have been friends for years, but when Serge disgusts Marc by buying an obscenely expensive painting, they find themselves suddenly unsure why. Yvan's well-meaning attempts to smooth over the disagreement don't seem to be helping matters.
Alongside the question of what makes a painting worthy of the term 'Art', or indeed a price-tag of two hundred thousand francs, the meaning of friendship and how it defines both parties runs through the play as the three men struggle to adjust to the shock that Serge's purchase has caused.
"A remarkably wise, witty and intelligent comedy ... 'Art' has touched a universal nerve"-The Times
Art opened in Paris in 1994 and touched a nerve with French audiences used to debating the place of art in life. It continuously played to sell-out audiences for 7 years, winning Molière awards for best author, best play, and best production. It premiered in the UK at the Wyndham's Theatre in 1996, and the next year won the Laurence Olivier Theatre Award for Best New Comedy. Popular around the world it has been translated into many languages and also won a Tony award.
An occasional critic has dismissed the play as overrated and superficial, but it's popularity with the world-wide theatrical audience cannot be doubted, having generated box office revenues measured in hundreds of millions of pounds across the 30 countries in which it has been produced. The appeal seems to lie in the combination of easy comedy and sharp observation with some genuinely interesting ideas about modern art and about friendship.
Set in Paris, the story revolves around three friends - Serge, Marc and Yvan - who find their previously solid 15-year friendship on shaky ground when Serge buys an expensive painting. The canvas is white, with a few white lines. Serge is proud of his 200,000 franc acquisition fully expecting the approval of his friends but Marc scornfully describes it as "a piece of white shit,".
Yvan's attempts at peace-making backfire. Eager to please he laughs about the painting with Marc but tells Serge he likes it. The row increases, and they square off over the canvas, using it as an excuse to relentlessly batter one another over various failures. As their arguments become less theoretical and more personal, they border on destroying their friendship.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977. The production was voted 'Best Amateur Drama' and Peter Corrigan was nominated for 'Best Amateur Actor' for his portrayal of Marc in The News 'Guide' Awards 2006.
|Stage Manager||Sam Emery|
|Light and Sound Operator||Derek Callam|
|Backstage and Technical Assistance||Sharman Callum |
|Lighting Design||Andrew Caple|
Is it Art? The merits of Serge's fantastically expensive white painting may be open to debate, but in my view Yasmina Reza's writing certainly qualifies. A brief description of the plot of Art doesn't promise much (well there's this bloke, and he's bought a painting, and he and his friends talk about it a bit...) but in a relatively short piece she provides enough material for a cast still to be debating the text twelve weeks after starting rehearsals. Her characters are real people, who behave like real people, mixing articulate intelligent debate with some really quite childish moments, and who are not afraid to talk over one another in an attempt to win the argument.
Christopher Hampton's faithful translation preserves the play's humour which is derived as much from terrible recognition as from 'jokes' with some passages almost unwatchably cruel and painfully funny at the same time. This ability to laugh when we see our flawed selves expertly represented on stage seems to me to be a particularly English trait, and perhaps this explains why the play is seen particularly as a comedy in England. It is interesting to observe people watching this play; the laughter does not always come where it is expected and some of the most poignant moments are also comical.
Although the words have been brilliantly translated, along with the dimensions of the painting (from millimeters to feet) to help English audiences follow the action, the situation remains in France. Our characters talk in Francs, have French names and (your cast and director believe at least) retain at least part of their French character. We think it is important that the characters are men - women talk to each other differently - and also that they remain from the other side of the channel. It has been suggested that any discussion between three English men would cease sooner to be intellectual, and descend towards an argument about football. Perhaps our French characters are Art fans in the way that some of those involved in the production are football fans, and their debate is equivalent to our own (quite serious) discussions about the merits of the 4-4-2 formation.
Tellingly, although arguably the French are more at ease discussing the themes of the play - both modern art and friendship - these are universal and indeed the play has been successful in translation into many languages. Our continental characters may conduct a rather un-English (frank and open) discussion about their friendship and their feelings about each other, but we can all recognise the feelings they describe and relate to their discussion. What do you do if a close and valued friend makes a decision that you feel strongly is lunacy - to the point where it affects your ability to enjoy being with him? To me, this is a more interesting question that the slightly worn argument about what makes some piece of art worth whatever apparently absurd price someone is willing to pay for it.
Such wonderfully crafted writing about intelligent and interesting questions attracts talented actors, and I have been extremely fortunate to be able to work with some of the Bench's most gifted. They have also been willing to rehearse without being always wedded to the text; we have tried a range of techniques to explore the characters and their situation, and I believe that the performance you see is built on these foundations. Above all, we have had a lot of fun, and if you look closely you might be able to spot the actors behind the characters enjoying themselves - especially if you join us in the bar afterwards to let us know what you thought and join in our continuing discussions.
We hope to see you there!
The General standard of Bench Theatre's work has been in flux - though never bad - of late. Art, however is a true return to form for Havant's home-grown theatre company. Yasmina Reza's piece (translated by Christopher Hampton) sparkles as much on the amateur stage as it did on the professional. That sparkle relies heavily on having three strong male performers at the helm, and director Robin Hall could not have found many stronger in the Bench's company than Peter Corrigan, Peter Woodward and Tim Taylor.
The story follows the ups and downs in the relationship of three friends when one purchases a work of art which, to the others, seems to be little more than a plain white canvas. When the anger Corrigan's Marc feels towards Woodward's Serge over this purchase explodes - comically and tragically - further cracks in the relationship are revealed and Taylor's Yvan is soon drawn into the maelstrom. The chemistry between the three protagonists is tangible and apart from one apparent dry on the opening night, Reza's dialogue romped along at a rollicking pace. Both hilarious and gut-wrenchingly sad, the Bench's production goes to show exactly what local theatre could and should be capable of.
The News, 15th July 2006
Translated from the original French play, Art combines hilarious and fascinating observations of male comradeship alongside critical debate about the validity of modern art. Extremely witty and intelligent, this play is entertaining, poignant and thought-provoking.
The rapport between the cast of three, under the excellent direction of Robin Hall, convincingly brought to life the complexities of each character as the bonds between the friends were scrutinised. Each actor performed with passion and total credibility, displaying exquisite comic timing through dialogue delivery, physical gestures, facial expressions, interaction with each other and during asides to the audience.
Minimal white scenery against a black backdrop mirrored the white canvas of the expensive painting while subtle lighting changes reflected Serge's insistence that his newly acquired masterpiece was "not white, but all shades of grey!", allowing the humanity of the characters to come to the fore.
Southampton Echo, 15th July 2006