Art at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Take just three actors and a white canvas and what have you got? Not much, you may be thinking.

That’s where you’d be wrong.

For this is Art, an 80-minute study of male friendship, which launched Yasmina Reza almost overnight into the English-speaking theatre more than 20 years ago and has since won just about every award going.

It’s been said before but there is no other word for it: it’s a phenomenon, and in the hands of three of our most popular actors it’s a no-brainer. It’s a must-see.

Nigel Havers, Stephen Tomkinson and Denis Lawson have been playing up their off-stage camaraderie and liking for Martinis in the media, but there is nothing frivolous about their performances.

With a minimalist set and no plot to speak of this is all about words and their delivery and, boy, does this trio deliver. It’s sheer poetry… or should I say, a work of art (yes, I know. I’m not the first critic to have used that phrase!).

When Serge buys a painting for £200,000 he obviously wants his best friends’ approval. But as the canvas is just plain white (well, with a bit of texture), he doesn’t get the response he is looking for and the men’s 25-year-long friendship is in danger of crashing.

But though the three run the gamut of emotions this is a first-class comedy, so much so that some of the lines were missed on the first night because of the laughter coming from the audience. The humour is not only in the dialogue but in the body language and facial expressions of its stars.

Whether or not they are the best friends they purport to be off-stage, on-stage the rapport between them is palpable. They make their closeness look so easy. At times I wondered if their gales of laughter were off-script. It certainly didn’t sound forced.

Art is not new to Havers, nor to me. I saw it a lifetime ago when he shared the bill with Roger Lloyd-Pack and Barry Foster, and I got to interview them in the West End where they were taking over from, among others, Ken Campbell.

Havers has certainly not lost any of that famous cheeky charm. As Serge, the owner of the painting, he is endearingly naïve and the perfect foil to Lawson’s explosive performance as acerbic Marc and Stephen Tomkinson’s masterful portrayal of the downtrodden Yvan – a type he does so well. His several-minute rant about his forthcoming marriage and his mother’s concern over invitations received a well-deserved round of applause.

Translated by Christopher Hampton and directed by Ellie Jones, this is a slick production which should ensure Art’s continued reputation as a phenomenon.

Edinburgh King’s Theatre

11 – 16 February 
Guildford Yvonne Arnaud
18 – 23 February
Malvern Theatre
25 February – 2 March 
Richmond Theatre
4 – 9 March 
Cheltenham Everyman Theatre
11 – 16 March 
Theatre Severn
18 – 23 March 2
Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre
25 – 30 March 
photo Matt Crockett