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Alice Dickerson

Art at The Old Vic

Art's original director, now artistic director at the Old Vic, has decided that it's due a revival.

Art is one of those iconic plays which define, in some small way, an era. It opened in London in 1996 at a time when the country felt buoyant and seemingly carefree. It's almost impossible to watch Art now without thinking back to the 1990s – a decade in which buying a near white, abstract painting might have seemed less absurd than it does today.

Yasmina Reza's Art is not a comment on the absurdity of some of the art produced in the era of the YBAs, and the pomposity of many of those who purchased it, but the period provides the backdrop to the play which considers friendship in an honest, at times painful and often very funny way.

The purchase of the near white painting proves to be a disruptive force in the lives of apparently good friends Marc, Serge and Yvan, exposing the degree to which their lives have diverged without them acknowledging or even noticing.

For a play that became known for its revolving cast list, its 2016 incarnation is spot on. Rufus Sewell is brilliant as Serge, the owner of the painting which he hopes will cement his status amongst a crowd that he has been trying for years to ingratiate himself with. Paul Ritter plays Marc, the cynic who delights in pricking Serge's pomposity, dissatisfied that his old friend no longer respects him. And Tim Key is excellent as downtrodden Yvan, who has watched his friends become increasingly successfully as his own life stagnates. It is Key who has one of the best speeches of the play, an explosive tirade against his fiancée, mother, and mother-in-law.

Art's original run in London was so lengthy that it doesn't feel long since it finished. But it's return is very welcome.

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