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Review: Art at The Marlowe is a revealing portrait of friendship

By Julia Collins

Art

The Marlowe

It's a pleasant feeling to sit in a theatre audience knowing that you're in the hands of seasoned professionals.

And with decades of experience each, let alone between the three of them, the trio at the heart of this revival of Yasmin Reva's smash hit Art leave absolutely no doubt of their capabilities.

ART at the Marlowe Theatre, wth Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson (2446300)
ART at the Marlowe Theatre, wth Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson (2446300)

It's relatively short – a scant 90 minutes, without an interval – and the set is sparsely dressed, so all attention is fully on the performers.

And they're more than up to the scrutiny as the discussions provoked by Serge's (Nigel Havers) purchase of a blank white artwork see their friendship gradually fracture.

Playing Serge doesn't see Havers pushed far beyond the type of character with which he has always been readily associated but every time he drops an expletive, there's an appreciative ripple of giggles from the audience.

Stephen Tompkinson, as Yvan, earns a spontaneous round of applause after a lengthy monologue describing domestic discord over the arrangements for his upcoming marriage, which sees him grow redder and redder in the face.

His performance is by far the most animated as he is torn between Serge and the angry reaction to the painting of Denis Lawson's Marc, who is swift to deride the £200,000 acquisition.

ART at the Marlowe Theatre, wth Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson (2446303)
ART at the Marlowe Theatre, wth Stephen Tompkinson, Nigel Havers and Denis Lawson (2446303)

As Serge and Marc's relationship deteriorates further, and each attempts to garner the backing of a clearly discomfited Yvan in the dispute, the play becomes less of a sceptic look at modern art and more of a study of the fragility of friendship.

It is here the play's French roots are really revealed as it's hard to imagine a group of English men discussing their feelings and their relationship with each other so animatedly.

Which may mean that while it's short on sheer belly laughs, it's an interesting, and not especially flattering, portrait of middle-aged men.

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