Loft Theatre Leamington
In the early stages of the action we’re in familiar Yasmina Reza territory. Middle class intellectuals trading marginally abstruse points on art and philosophy. So very French.
A man has bought a painting for a huge sum and his friends can’t seem to agree with him about its worth, or with each other about the worrying schism this is rapidly opening.
Well-rehearsed punches and counter-punches about modern art – perennially the softest of soft targets for cynics – are thrown around and, although we’ve heard it all before, it has to be said we haven’t often heard it as cogently and wittily set out on the canvas as this.
Ironically most of the ‘value of art’ arguments we hear revolve – as here – around the exceptionally high prices placed seemingly at random on work which we can’t truly warm too. In these days of cancel culture and everyone being a valid and vocal critic, the question ought perhaps be about who decides a body of previously valuable work should now be worthless owing to the supposed misdeeds or unfashionable thinking of its creator.
But the great modern art debate is summarily shunted to the back after a time as the emphasis switches away from the dreaded painting itself and on to the effect it has had on three friends.
And it’s here that the true worth of Sue Moore’s production really sits. From Chris Gilbey-Smith, Tony Homer and Mark Roberts we get three top-class performances.
Clear and persuasive through the semantics scuffles, crisply-timed in the humour and resolutely piqued when offended, there’s so much quality on show here.
At what point does not liking what someone has done become not liking that person?
What happens when one person’s assumption of teacher is usurped by a faster-moving pupil? Can any triangle of friends ever escape the dangers of telling white lies to keep everyone happy? All these questions test the resolve of the trio to breaking point.
The joyously enacted twist in the tail, when it comes, is not unexpected but provides some sort of conclusive statement for a debate which will never see a true resolution while art is still created.
Played out on Richard Moore’s pin-sharp modernist set with nothing out of place, this is a film length rollercoaster of sharp-tongued sparring which never lets up and never becomes tedious.
You may judge your successful dramas on scale, on length, on laughs or on moral content. There’s no doubting, though, that quality of manufacture must be an element in deciding and this production certainly merits a prominent spot in the Loft’s gallery.
Art runs at the Loft Theatre until Saturday January 28. For more details and booking visit lofttheatrecompany.com