Perhaps only a French writer could pull off a 90-minute drama about three men arguing over what is, essentially, a blank canvas. Perhaps a British writer would depict the men squabbling for 90 minutes, but over a painting?
Ed Ullyart’s set is as austerely white as the disputed painting bought by Serge, played by Malcolm Tomlinson. Tomlinson presents Serge as a wannabe art lover seeking approval from his friend Marc (Richard Avery). Marc, a rationalist engineer, is less than impressed.
Enter Yvan played, with touching vulnerability, by Clive Kneller. He has not achieved the success in life of either of the other two and, in agreeing with both Serge and Marc, is embarrassed when his mendacity is revealed,
Marc feels threatened by his friend’s purchase. Ostensibly, his objection is expressed as contempt for modern art (murmurings of agreement from the audience) but resents that Serge has taken an independent decision without reference to him. Avery plays Marc as a world-weary intellectual determined to maintain his position of pre-eminence among the group.
Perhaps Serge’s purchase is an unconscious rebellion against Marc, but what the audience sees is at least one member of the trio determined to have something to cherish in his life. Tomlinson is required to switch, credibly, between subservience to Marc and his opinions, to outrage at perceiving the reality of their relationship. Despite the demands of these extremes, Tomlinson maintains a remarkable consistency throughout.
Clive Kneller’s Yvan arouses our pity. Life has already dealt him a raw deal, and then, caught in the middle, his friends turn on him. He has no opinion one way or the other on the painting, but merely wants to please whoever he is talking to. It is a recipe for an emotional disaster.
I suspect very few of the audience walked out of the theatre not questioning who they are and where they stand on some of life’s great issues. This is what great art can do.
Art runs at the East Riding Theatre, Beverley, until Saturday October 20.
Tickets: 01482 874050