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(From left) Panicker plays a man caught in the middle between two friends (Chew and Lim) when he pays top dollar for a painting in white, in Art.

A 20-year-old play that's as current as ever

Aug 19, 2016 5:50 AM

WHAT a difference 20 years can make - especially in Singapore, where change is an absolute constant. The arts scene itself (both visual and performing) has grown by leaps and bounds in two decades.

In 1998, the idea of paying more than S$10,000 for a piece of art (local or foreign) was preposterous to many; in 2016, the seventh edition of Art Stage Singapore saw local artists selling works more than three times that price - and foreign artists' works pitched at six-digit figures.

So, if you're in the right circle of art lovers and investors, you probably won't blink an eye if someone said they paid S$200,000 or S$300,000 for a piece of art by a famous painter. Or would you?

That's the very premise of French playwright Yasmin Reza's award-winning play, Art. And in today's context, the play will resonate even more among its Singapore audience, compared to when the Singapore Repertory Theatre staged it over a decade ago in 1998 and 2002, believes Gaurav Kripalani, SRT's artistic and managing director.

Singapore was the first country to stage the 1994 play after it was translated into English and played on Broadway in 1996. For Mr Kripalani, the only reason he's reviving it is that it's the perfect play for the National Gallery Singapore, when it approached him for a collaboration.

And it continues to be as witty and humorous as when he first watched it in London 20 years ago, says Mr Kripalani. "The comedy is as brilliant today . . . it hasn't dated at all. And I'd say that given the way the Singapore art scene has evolved, the play has become even more current," he says.

This time, actor Remesh Panicker reprises his role as Yvan, who's caught in the middle between two friends, Serge (Gerald Chew) and Mark (Lim Yu Beng), when he pays top dollar for a painting in white.

For Lim, fresh from directing the play he wrote for the George Town Festival, set in the iconic E&O Hotel in Penang, the National Gallery site is more of a conceptual effect. "I mean, we're not doing it where you can actually see the artworks while watching the play. It's just the idea that we are talking about this space, this placement of art and painting in our lives, in the space itself," he notes.

To him, the play operates on a much more human level. "It's the three guys - three guys exploring the art of friendship, that old minefield," he quips.

The play is directed by Danny Yeo, who's directing his first main stage production for SRT, but has directed many of SRT's children's plays.

  • Art will run from Sept 1-Oct 1 (no shows from Sept 8-18 during the F1) at City Hall Chambers, National Gallery Singapore. Tickets available at sistic.com.sg