‘Art’ at the Gaiety, ‘Late at the Gate’: the best theatre this week

Yasmina Reza’s celebrity warhorse returns, while Emmet Kirwan gives a dissenting, rhyming response to ‘Look Back in Anger’

Gaiety Theatre, Dublin; March 19th-24th, 7.30pm; €21-€51; gaietytheatre.ie
Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Take the piece acquired by Serge, a man who may be either at the vanguard of modern-art appreciation or pretentious beyond belief. Proudly showing his friends a perfectly blank canvas, by a hip painter called Antrios, that cost him 200,000 francs, he awaits their approval and initiates a war. His longest friend, Marc, despises it. Their mutual friend Yvan, an uncomplicated man and keeper of the peace, tries to mediate. But the value of art and the value of friendship are put to the test in Yasmina Reza's sly play from 1994, translated in an internationally successful version by Christopher Hampton, whose own value has been both inflated and diminished through many years as a sturdy celebrity vehicle. Now a new touring version staring Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson, familiar faces from the heyday of broadcast television, comes to Dublin for another barbed critique of culture and society. Can we appreciate each other if we cannot appreciate each other's taste, the play wonders, and can the bonds of friendship only endure so much sincerity?

Late at the Gate
Gate Theatre, Dublin; March 23rd and 24th, 10.30pm; €10; gaietytheatre.ie
A new platform at the Gate invites artists and audiences to respond to its programming, beginning with Emmet Kirwan's response to Look Back in Anger. If ever a play required some response, it's John Osborne's work from 1957, a play as pivotal as it is deeply problematic. Kirwan has understandable misgivings about the work (as, indeed, does Annabelle Comyn's cautious, distanced production). Its protagonist, Jimmy Porter, may rail against the Establishment, but he funnels that aggression into uninterrupted misogynist abuse. As an educated writer and performer suffused with the experience of working-class Dublin, Kirwan is also gamely able to defuse any easy associations the marketing material might want to make: "If people think I am like Jimmy Porter," he said recently, "I'm in trouble." It's unlikely anyone would confuse the two. Kirwan's three poems for the occasion come from the nexus of spoken word and hip hop, dense with allusions and detail, but more soulful than scourging, and as compassionate towards the strivers as they are fiercely critical of inequalities in society. Best when he combines such political insights with personal perspectives, in the touching Mam and Dad Are Worried or the unabashed celebration I Love You Woman, the fleet-footed verses Kirwan delivers may be too whirling to take in in a single sitting, but they encourage you to look back in awe.