First Impression: 'Art', Wyndham's Theatre, London, November 1996

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The Independent Culture

A close friend marries someone whose virtues are entirely invisible to you. It's the artful stroke of 'Art' to re-imagine that situation, replacing the woman who comes between male friends with a modern painting.

The stage looks set for a spry intellectual divertissement. But is that what you get? Well, I laughed quite a lot and lapped up the lovely comic teamwork of the three stars in Matthew Warchus's production. Tom Courtenay is perfectly cast as Serge, prissily carting his picture on and off. The whiff of a loud, prosperous, yet paradoxically sensitive bookie that Albert Finney can bring to a role is almost as strong an asset. Best of all is Ken Stott, who does wonderful work as the underdog whose periodically virtuosic bark is as weak as his bite.

If only the play could live up to the performances: but it's meringue masquerading as piquantly sauced meat. Its insight into the nature of male friendship seems to be compromised from the outset by the extreme difficulty one experiences trying to imagine this oddly assorted trio in any plausible social situation outside the play.

Having the friends come to blows over a painting rather than a woman sheds less light on cockeyed male value-systems than it does on boulevard audiences who clearly welcome the illusion that quick, shallow references to aesthetic issues are a fun, efficient way of toning up the mind.