By the time you are reading this, the tour of the comedy Art will have started.
But let’s take a little step back in time to Wednesday last week (February 7) to a cold day in London where we have been among the lucky few to be invited to see rehearsals of this comedy starring television stalwarts Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson ahead of its visit to Northampton’s Royal & Derngate later this year.
When Serge spends an extortionate amount of money on an all white modernist painting, his close friends Marc and Yvan are baffled. But does their violent reaction to this provocative canvas mirror more dangerous antagonisms towards each other? Yasmina Reza’s dazzling study of friendship, prejudice and tolerance is a masterpiece.
But one thing is for certain, while the short extract we saw from the beginning of the show may well set up the comedy which comes later, it is a piece, much like the painting, which will be discussed plenty afterwards.
One person who likes the painting is its star Nigel, who is returning to the play having performed it several times.
He said: “I have always played Serge, I’ve never wanted to play another character because I really do like the painting. I am transfixed by it so to play Marc and hate the painting would be a problem for me.”
One person who has a slightly more measured response is Stephen Tompkinson, who said: “It is the journey that the audience go on with this show. Because the painting is so polarising, it sparks off debate and discussion long after the performance has finished.
“The painting becomes a catalyst for a beautiful relationship failing before your very eyes.”
But whatever your view, director Ellie Jones says that the audience can make up their own mind.
She said: “This is a play where Yasmina doesn’t take an opinion of the painting, all three characters have their different points of view, so you can see it from whichever perspective you like.”
Nigel Havers returns to the role for this tour and it’s a part he is always happy to return to.
He said: “I think it is my favourite play of all time. I think in terms of modern plays, this is the perfect play.
“We are all older now than when we first did it and I think there is a lot more at stake for us. I think it is really touching and moving and there are several moments when you lose yourself in the show.
“I come off stage at the end of the show having had an argument and wondering what has happened because it is terrifying what happens to us at the end of the show.
“It is the perfect length for me. I think the majority of plays are too long, but at 85 minutes this is the perfect length.”
And while Nigel and Stephen have performed in the show before, Denis, despite a long and illustrious career, is new to the show, and is complimentary about his fellow cast members.
“It’s a nightmare working with the two of them,” he joked.
Denis added: “No it’s great, we have known each other socially. The three of us have done a little bit of television work but saying yes to this was one of the easiest decisions.
“I’d seen the original production but had never read the play. Once I read it, it was just the most beautiful play. It has been a great pleasure to work on. The three roles are great and all of them are equals so no-one is made to feel less. They are beautiful characters to play.”
Art can be seen at the Royal & Derngate from Monday to Saturday, May 14-19. For more details visit www.royalandderngate.co.uk.