Art, Norwich

JOHN LAWSON While there is much broad comedy in Yasmina Reza's three-hander, you just know that it is soon going to start digging away at ever-deeper levels.

JOHN LAWSON

French drama is all about feelings, about playing with language, about philosophical arguments.

So while there is much broad comedy in Yasmina Reza's three-hander, you just know that it is soon going to start digging away at ever-deeper levels.

And that requires a set of natural performances and a real chemistry between the players to make it work.

So casting three of the Britain's most versatile actors was always going to be a prerequisite.

Two of the three – Nigel Havers and Norfolk's own Roger Lloyd-Pack – were recreating the roles they had already played in the show's West End production, which has quite rightly become the capital's most successful play in years, with a whole string of high-profile casts.

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The third, Leigh Lawson, complemented them well, if trying a bit too hard on occasion.

Art reveals how much a trio of friends have been less than honest in their dealings with one another – their personal frustrations with themselves and one another bubbling to the surface amid a dispute over the validity of a piece of modern art bought by Serge (Havers).

It is a white canvas on a white background with feint white diagonal stripes – and Serge has paid 200,000 francs for it.

Any suggestion that this is simply to be a satire on the artistic merit of abstract painting disappears under a thunder cloud of discontent after Marc (Lawson) dismisses it as rubbish, while Yvan (Lloyd-Pack) tries to remain loyally neutral.

Yvan is fixated by the problems surrounding his forthcoming marriage while Serge sees Marc's attack as an acid test of the true value he puts on their long-time friendship.

Much is said that all three begin to regret – but will it have an irrevocable effect on their friendship.

Things are put into perspective when Yvan and Marc are complicit in defacing the painting into a worthless cartoon – but I'm not about to spoil the ending.

Christopher Hampton's scintillating translation bounces around between the trio and ensures a great evening is had by all.

t Art continues at the Theatre Royal until Saturday March 1. Box office: 01603 630000.

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