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(From left) Lim Yu-Beng, Gerald Chew and Remesh Panicker - three of Singapore's veteran actors - give a fast-paced, well-nuanced delivery of their characters in Art, which easily holds the audience as they take us down the rabbit hole that is their friendship.

The Art of probing the 'why' and 'what' of friends and friendships

Sep 9, 2016 5:50 AM

THE best plays are those with great dialogue, characters and very realistic situations. That explains why French playwright Yasmina Reza's Art is a classic. Hardly any bit of the 22-year-old play felt dated as it threw up the question of how you'd react if your friend paid 200 grand for a non-descript (at least, in your eyes) painting by a "fashionable" painter.

While the white painting is the trigger and central subject of the play, Art in fact is an investigation of why friends are friends and also what friendships are built on. Three of Singapore's veteran actors - Remesh Panicker, Lim Yu Beng and Gerald Chew - give a fast-paced, well-nuanced delivery of their characters, which easily holds the audience as they take us down the rabbit hole that is their friendship.

The confrontation was set up immediately in the first scene. What gets Marc (Lim) riled up with Serge (Chew) and vice versa, is Marc calling a painting that Serge bought a "white piece of shit"; while Serge doesn't see the humour in the situation, of course.

Marc heads off to visit Yvan (Panicker), known to be the nicest fellow among them, to tell the tale of the white painting, and of course Yvan soon pays a visit to Serge to see the aforementioned object.

From there, the issue spirals off - as there's first the problem of each one rubbing salt into the wound through their various interpretations, and then each nitpick on one another's perspective, and the beliefs and attitude they're built on.

Reza's one-set play also employs the useful soliloquy where the characters confide and speak plainly to the audience and the light changes - focusing on the actor - were effective in moving the play forward and also create confidantes of the audience.

Chew portrays an even-keeled, upper middle-class (a dermatologist after all) aspirational character, while Lim excels as the egotistical friend who is most affronted by his friend's taste in art. Panicker is in his element as the nice guy who tries to be the peacemaker between the two.

This is the third time the Singapore Repertory Theatre has staged Art, the first two in 1998 and 2002. If the Singapore of 1998 was one that was concerned about bread-and-butter issues, and 2002 was one in which the foundations of the art economy were just being established, Singapore of 2016 has art collectors who have the money to be just like Serge.

That Art is held at the City Hall Chambers of the newly minted National Gallery Singapore adds another layer to the play. Ultimately, the play isn't about what is good or bad art as much as it holds up the mirror to ourselves and our own attitudes towards the status that appreciation of art gives us.

  • Art runs until Sept 30. Nightly, 8pm with additional 3pm matinees on Sat and Sun. For tickets, please go to sistic.com