Skip to content


Published on Thursday, 27 August 2009

So, here's one of life's little ironies: I, a theatre critic, am about to review a play about the nature of art appreciation itself. Set in Paris and originally written in French, Yasmina Reza's famous script centres on the reactions of three men - Serge, Marc and Yvan - to a painting so thoroughly modern, it's almost purely white. Each of the characters takes their turn to play the critic; so if I were one of the three men, I wonder, which of them would I be?

We'll rule out, I think, the nihilistic Marc, whose well-acted contempt for modern art is a cipher for the fault-lines in the relationships we see delicately portrayed on stage. Terrified of being overtaken by his one-time protégé, Serge, his insecurity develops into a twisted hatred of the modern fashions he claims have driven a wedge between him and his friend. In much of what he says he's the voice of Everyman, but I at least will never see an critical disagreement as grounds to end a friendship; so Marc isn't me.

And I've got to hope I'm not Yvan - poor, exploited Yvan. Often he plays the peacemaker between the warring Marc and Serge; and often he holds the play together, too. His frenetic, neurotic appearances stay just the right side of being overdone, and create enough energy to see us through the quieter moments when the other two men hold the floor. His riotous rant on the difficulties of arranging wedding invitations is worth the ticket price on its own - and if you can manage to tear your eyes off him, look at the reactions on the other actors' faces for a masterclass in understated comedy.

So it seems I must be Serge; the man whose impulsive purchase of the pure-white canvas creates the conflict at the heart of the play. His lovable pretension is gloriously acted - notwithstanding that the cut-above accent occasionally slips - and, even if the parody seems a little too one-dimensional at the start, you'll have discovered his depths by the end. Yes; you wouldn't see me dead in jacket and jeans, but otherwise I'm Serge to a T.

And what would Serge say? He'd love Art, I'm sure. He'd enjoy the sharp interplay between the three actors, and he'd admire how confidently they each convey the essence of their very different characters. He'd surely appreciate the stripped-down presentation, with its slick scene changes keeping the all-important dialogue flowing right the way through. And he'd be both startled and touched by the climax, which is shocking, funny and heart-warming too.

In the end, then, there's no doubt; I'll join Serge in his appreciation of Art.

<< At Home With Holly   Colin Hoult's Carnival Of... >>