A show about art, called Art, performed in an art gallery, is an immensely satisfying premise, and Company O’s production cuts to the heart of our pretentions with humour and class.
Entering the Holmes à Court Gallery we are greeted with the large echoing space, small table serving wine, and background jazz that denotes a Serious Art Gallery and demands reverential quietude. The paintings on display by artists from the Fitzroy valley in the Kimberley region are tastefully lit, and the scene is set for appreciative contemplation and mutterings about form and composition. Anyone apprehensive of such reverence should not be put off, however, as Yasmina Reza’s play calls into question this very affectation and pokes good-natured fun at the art world in general.
The play centres around three friends, one of whom has bought a ludicrously expensive white painting, and is understandably having his sanity questioned by his mates. The argument evolves from being about the painting to being about their individual perspectives on life and each other as represented by their divergent artistic tastes.
The three friends are very different people, from each other and – as becomes evident as the argument gets nasty – from the people they were when they became friends.
Marc, scorner of modernism and pretentious art buyers, is confident, snarky, and brutally honest, loping around the stage like he owns it, despite his house being the only one not to appear.
Serge, enthusiastic buyer of said white painting, is more furtive, expectant of praise and equally as ready as Marc to go on the offensive when he doesn’t receive it. His decision to buy the painting does not seem so absurd once he effuses about it, and the beauty of the play is that it is hard to condemn him or any of them outright.
Ivan is the bumbling people-pleaser, chaotic and prone to self-pity, and although if he were my friend I’m sure I would find him annoying as the others do, in the show he is pitiful and hilarious. All three characters are in the wrong at some point – usually whenever they are speaking – and they all are wronged, but I am firmly on team Ivan thanks to Jason Robert Lester’s endearing vocal fry and brilliant facial expressions. His penchant for the well-timed pause got many a laugh out of the audience on opening night.
Art is presented by Company O
All three actors play off each other beautifully, interrupting and openly scorning each other in the way of old friends, and on top of the very witty dialogue they get a chance to show off their physical comedy skills too. My highlight was Andrew O’Connell and Nigel Goodwin’s long-suffering faces and botched attempts to interrupt when Ivan got going on a rant about his upcoming nuptials. Even during the very tense moments comedy abounded. Only sometimes can the line, “but you should cancel the wedding” get such a laugh and it was thanks to Goodwin’s spot-on delivery that it did.
The show has no background music during the action which contributes to the mounting tension between the three friends, but Krispin Maesalu fills the transitions between scenes with short melodies on his English horn (it looks like an oboe was left in a bath too long). The music echoes mournfully through the gallery, reminding us of the space we are in and the reverence usually given to such spaces. The music moves through three movements related to the life cycle of a caterpillar, each stage linked to a different character. This kind of grandiose detail that realistically no one is going to notice proves Company O’s dedication to the piece and its themes. Serge would surely appreciate such devotion to art for art’s sake, while Marc would roll his eyes.
Company O’s Art is funnier than it has any right to be and brilliantly airs our apprehensions about art snobbery without undermining the art form itself. It is showing at the Holmes à Court Gallery until 2nd October.