Art (2014), Review

3 minutes read
9 February 2014, 8:00pm


How much would you pay for ‘Art’?

Would you be willing to pay?
a) S$282,337.20 for a piece of white canvas with a few faint white lines.
b) S$35 for a performance about a piece of white canvas with a few faint white lines.
Note: I have answered ‘Yes’ to one of the two questions.

Produced by Nine Years Theatre as part of Huayi Chinese Festival of Arts, Art is a Mandarin production translated from a French play of the same name by playwright Yasmina Reza. This comedy revolves around three friends, Marc (Peter Sau), Serge (Liu Xiaoyi), and Yvan (Oliver Chong) and their “bone to pick” when Serge purchases the aforementioned canvas for 200,000 francs.

Performed entirely in Mandarin, non-mandarin speaking audiences of Art would have the ‘pleasure’ of reading the surtitles located on the centre wall, provided that they do not mind:
a) Reading the punch lines ahead of the action.
b) Missing out on some of the actions as you (desperately) attempt to speed read the chunk of lines.

As far as comedy goes, each punch line must be precisely timed, its witty banter meticulously executed in order to tickle the audiences. Judging by the rousing responses on Sunday evening, my claims that the actors have successfully done so is entirely valid.

Chong’s performance as Yvan, the “idiotic pet” of the trio is wonderful, effortlessly eliciting laughter and enthusiastic applause from the audience. Not to be outshined are Sau and Liu, who thrived on their characters’ absurd disdain of one other’s antics and kept the audience grinning throughout the performance.

Some praise should be given to the set designer Wong Chee Wai for his brilliant touch in the construction of the minimalist mise-en-scene. However, I was slightly perplexed by the director, Nelson Chia’s decision to make use of the revolving walls.
While the walls allow the audience to smoothly negotiate the ever-changing space on stage, it inevitably creates a paradoxical irony:
a) The animate aspect of the revolving walls creates a considerable amount of three dimensions, literally wrapping one’s attention onto the space on stage.
b) The outlines of the stagehands can be seen sauntering across the frames, making the audience aware of the “performance”. (much like the alienating effects of a Brechtian play)

Chia’s efforts of ensuring that the off-stage actors, stagehands and musician are visible throughout the entire performance contributed to a “bare it all” idea that significantly reduced the level of realism of the performance.

Perhaps, one can see this as an attempt by him to frame Art as a piece of performance art?
So back to the question of how much would you pay for Art? I feel that it would be an absolute waste of money to pay for something you would not enjoy. If an evening of comical and philosophical banter is the right cup of tea for you, then it is money well spent.

I, for example, cannot justify myself buying a piece of white canvas with a few faint white lines for S$282,337.20.
What about you?

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