Great Artists Steal

Does originality exist? Are all creators thieves in disguise? The answer is no and yes (probably), at least according to Great Artists Steal, a new play by Seamus Collins. It is bizarre and stimulating in equal measure, where every abuse of theatrical convention is to some delicious purpose.

The performances are vivid, strange and exquisitely tight. Their delivery of the tongue-tying dialogue is impressive but it’s their bodies that attract most attention.

The story has a fairy tale simplicity. The Man (Siva Nagapattinam Kasi) is the world’s greatest inventor. His past credits include fire, weapons and clothing. The Woman his wife (Melanie Tanneau) has also invented things like bread. Into this odd domestic setting arrives the Younger Man (Cedric Merillon), who will be the Man’s apprentice and perhaps the Wife’s lover. Where the real interest lies is not in the story but in the language. Seamus Collins seems to have sculpted (written would be the wrong word) a weird dislocated English that reinvents the rules of grammar to hilarious and disconcerting effect. If language is a transparent window into meaning then this is a heap of broken glass, dangerous but oddly beautiful.

The shadows of Beckett and Ionesco hang over the play. The story structure is identical to Ionesco’s The Lesson and the relentless difficulty with which characters perform the simplest things seems to come straight out of Waiting for Godot. But this is the play’s point. By following the dictum that great artists steal (variously attributed to Picasso or TS Eliot) the play strikes a blow against the Romantic conception of originality as an aesthetic standard. What matters instead is that work of art is in some way useful or true. It is upon this standard that Great Artists Steal makes its claim for greatness.

The performances are vivid, strange and exquisitely tight. Their delivery of the tongue-tying dialogue is impressive but it’s their bodies that attract most attention. All the actors are Lecoq-trained (a world famous mime school) and it shows. There is something about the way they physically regard themselves that even if they were just waving their hands and jumping up and down for an hour I would be entertained. Fortunately they are doing so much more.

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Performances

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The Blurb

A penny for your thoughts? Lecoq-trained Paris-based international theatre company Theatraverse presents Great Artists Steal, a bilingual play by Belfast’s Seamus Collins. With a comic touch this absurd play uses language to examine the nature of invention and originality. World famous inventor, The Man, waits with his wife, The Woman, for the arrival of his newest apprentice. The Younger Man brings with him a strange language and an even stranger new idea. Life has a funny way of repeating itself…

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