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Published : 13/Feb/2019

ART is a phenomenon, one of the most successful plays ever and is coming Shrewsbury's Theatre Severn this March 2019. Having opened in 1996, it took both the West End and Broadway by storm, won Olivier, Tony, Moliere and every other major theatre award, and has been packing in audiences worldwide for more than twenty years. 

Speaking ahead of their appearance in ART at Theatre Severn, BAFTA nominated Nigel Havers (Downton Abbey, Chariots of Fire),Olivier Award-winning Denis Lawson (Bleak House, New Tricks) and British Comedy Award- winning Stephen Tompkinson (The Split, Wild at Heart, Ballykissangel) explain a little more about what to expect from the production, what they look for in friendship and an in-sight in to life on tour...

“First of all it’s very short. I’m very keen on short theatre,” twinkles Nigel “As yet I have not found a better modern play, it’s intellectual, witty and about things I understand, like friendship and art. For me it’s an absolute godsend.”

Stephen nods in agreement. “I also saw the first night at Wyndham’s and it was an incredible night. When I was offered the role of Ivan later in the run I jumped at it. She (playwright Yasmina Reza) has beautifully observed this male friendship and it is constantly amusing. I haven’t done the play for 18 years but it is lovely to come back to.”

He may not have been in the play before, but Denis is nevertheless delighting in learning his lines. “I had seen it but had never read it and it is such a pleasure to dig into. The comedy is just wonderful,”.

Winner of just about every prestigious theatre award going, ART tells the story of Serge, a divorced doctor who buys an abstract painting. Serge’s friend Marc is outraged that anyone would pay such a vast sum of money for a completely white canvas and dismisses it as tosh. Mutual friend Yvan tries to reconcile the pair, but before long finds himself in the line of fire. Laugh-out-loud funny, it is undoubtedly the exploration of friendship within the sparkling writing that gives ART truly universal appeal, so what, we ask, are the qualities Nigel, Stephen and Denis appreciate in their friends?

“Tolerance and malleability,” quips Stephen. 

Denis responds: “I still have friends from school. We see each other regularly and it is a wonderful thing to have friendships with people you have known since you were 11 or 12. We all have very different lives but our friendship is very easy. That’s special and I really value it.”

Nigel also still has strong links with friends from childhood. “It is a good feeling and they are like family in a way,” he observes. 

But out on tour the triumvirate will become their own family. How do they amuse themselves when they’re not performing?

“You arrive on Monday, so that’s taken care of, Tuesday usually includes some sort of publicity for the play, Wednesday is probably a matinee, Thursday you might visit a gallery, Friday you sleep in and then on Saturday you go home,” offers Nigel, explaining that even living out of a suitcase and being somewhere different every week has its own rhythm. 

“I’ve not toured for a while but if there’s one of those hop-on-hop-off buses then I’ll be on it,” admits Stephen. “You learn all sorts and they’re very good for finding your bearings,” he insists.

Agreeing that there will be “a lot of epicurean feasting” along the way, eating out seems to be a popular cast activity, with all the towns and cities on the tour schedule getting the collective thumbs up for restaurants and pubs.

Twenty years since David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers first produced ART in the West End, the original post-London tour played for 78 weeks.  Aiming to break their own record, Pugh & Rogers have every faith that such a top-notch cast gives them every chance of success. 

“It doesn’t date; it still feels fresh,” promises Denis. 

“You’ll love it,” urges Stephen. “It’s not just a play about three men because it’s from a woman’s point of view.” 

Nigel adds: “And because it’s short you’ll be in the pub afterwards in time to order food.” 

ART opens on Monday 18 March for ONE WEEK ONLY. Tickets are available now from the Box Office (01743 281281) and online.