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Is Reza’s play, in the end, a modern classic or a modish crowdpleaser? I lean to the former view but the answer, as with Serge’s enigmatic painting, lies in the eye of the beholder.
It might be the most brilliantly awful play ever written – and, worse, it's one step ahead. Knock it as naff, and you're as snobbish as Serge. Lap it up, and you're Marc. Sit on the fence and you're Yvan. It is a worthless masterpiece; a pedigree crowdpleaser. I can't stand it.
This feels a little bit like the theatrical equivalent of a reunion tour, like the Rolling Stones doing the rounds one more time but with better lighting. It was almost exactly 20 years ago — October 16, 1996, to be precise — that this play by Yasmina Reza about what happens when a man buys an expensive piece of modern art that baffles his two best friends had its first press night in London, having already wowed Paris.
Having directed the play on both sides of the Atlantic, Matthew Warchus brings a wealth of familiarity to the piece on his own turf and still manages to keep the nuances of dialogue and episodic silences light and meaningful. Mark Thompson's chic, monastic set design is a homage to minimalism made flesh through Hugh Vanstone's delicate lighting design. After this, it's all down to the chemistry of the three actors and how they spark off one another.
It’s a big stage for just three actors and a lot of bare white walls, but they more or less command it. Reza’s precise writing unfolds in a series of short, sharp duologues before the explosive, extended finale à trois. It’s surface gloss rather than real profundity, but appealing surface gloss all the same.