Courting Intellectual Elitism Without Ever Shagging it: SUDS’ “Art”

Emma Balfour saw a pretentious French play and it wasn’t awful

Yasmina Reza’s play Art centres around three French dudebros/philosophers who argue about the meaning of a painting, which is a massive red flag for any production. Art that talks about art is always dangerous because there is a 98% chance that the performance will be a circlejerk ouroboros that sprays egotistic semen like Pollock. Happily, SUDS’s performance of Art falls into the 2%.

The plot is best summarised in the programme: “Serge buys an expensive contemporary painting. Marc can’t believe it. Yvan does his best.” The painting in question is white paint on a white background, supposedly costing Serge 200,000 francs. It definitely starts like a preachy HSC production, squeezing in forced monologues about modern art, but the actors save it from being too stifling with comedic talking heads that allow their characters to breathe. Director Jack Mitchell’s focus on the moments and feelings in the play rather than its subject matter turned it from farcical drama to dramatic farce.

The actors were able to navigate the pretentious subject matter with surprising honesty. Max Baume’s portrayal of angry Marc hits every comedic beat – his moments of silent fury were some of the funniest notes of the play. Timothy Ng’s Serge, a bristling art collector, has just the perfect mix of self-importance and earnestness. Jem Rowe provides a hopeful, brittle medium between these two with Yvan, a nervous hand-wringing fool who is played like a child with divorcing parents. The characters all manage to hold a tension between being self-important, self-analytical, and selfish, but they’re still heaps of fun to watch.

The play escalates well, courting intellectual elitism without ever shagging it. I had a lot more fun than I thought I would, and that’s mainly down to the bright performances. If you’re up for important criticisms of modern art, visit the MCA. If you’re up for a laugh, see Art.

Art is on from July 29th-August 1st & August 5-8th in the Cellar.