Feb 12 2019 | By More

★★★★☆   Sparkling

King’s Theatre: Mon 11 – Sat 16 Feb 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

Art, at the King’s until Saturday, is everything a high-profile touring show should be – a carefully thought out, well-directed production of a hit play featuring a big-name cast at the top of their game.

Yasmina Reza’s play, translated by Christopher Hampton, tells of the problems caused among three old friends in Paris when one of them purchases a modernist, white-on-white painting.

Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson. Pic: Matt Crockett

Famously, of course, the hugely successful play has very little to do with art, being instead a dissection of human relationships, male egos, control and power. Denis Lawson’s Marc is less concerned with the painting in itself, and more worried about what it means to their friendship that Serge (Nigel Havers) should have bought it without consulting him.

Stuck in the middle is Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson), the apparently hapless joker whose upcoming wedding is causing him-to re-evaluate his own position.

Despite the bitterly comic edge to some of the dialogue, it is all a little cosier than might be expected, and not as profound as it wants to be. In truth, Reza has written better plays – God of Carnage, for example.

racing merrily along

Nevertheless, it is easy to see why this has an enduring appeal. Tautly constructed and racing merrily along through just under ninety minutes without an interval, it provides ample opportunity for three seasoned comic performers.

Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson. Pic: Matt Crockett

The direction is credited to Ellie Jones ‘based on Matthew Warchus’ Old Vic Production’ and a balancing act between an established version and a new production is cleverly brought off. There is a rhythm and pace to the play that shows all of the actors in their best light – and most importantly, it is utterly believable that the three of them have known each other for such a long time.

Havers is puckish and playful, occasionally playing to the gallery but never overdoing it; Lawson, more staid but still humorous, provides a necessary anchor. Tompkinson benefits from having the most obvious bravura moments, and makes good use of them in a tremendous display of timing and comic nous.

All of the big-budget elements of a high-profile touring production are present and correct – Mark Thompson’s ingeniously sturdy set, Hugh Vanstone’s expressive lighting, Mic Pool’s evocative sound design – but none of the temptation to coast that sometimes comes with them.

This is doubly important in a play that requires a relatively high amount of commitment to make the comedy (and the psychology) function. And even if its impact is diluted by a desire for neatness – notably in a resolution that is unnecessary– this is still a play with considerable impact, performed notably well.

Running time 1 hour 25 minutes (no interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Monday 11-Saturday 16February2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed & Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book online here.

ART production website:

ART on tour 2019:
11 – 16 February 2019 Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
18 – 23 February 2019 Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00 Book online
25 February – 2 March 2019 Malvern
Festival Theatre
01684 892277 Book online
4 – 9 March 2019 Richmond
0844 871 7651 Book online
11 – 16 March 2019 Cheltenham
Everyman Theatre
01242 572573 Book online
18 – 23 March 2019 Shrewsbury
Theatre Severn
01743 281281 Book online
25 – 30 March 2019 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online

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