Review: Art Heist, New Diorama Theatre

Having missed Art Heist in Edinburgh, I feel sort of relieved to have finally seen it in London. I unavoidably enter with expectations and happily, they pay off.

The focal point of the empty, ornate frame overshadowing the action is a nice touch, perhaps because it’s simultaneously the most and least real thing on the stage. We know, or at least I think I know, that this isn’t all real. It’s a game of some sort. Kind of like Dungeons and Dragons? I’ve never played that though, so rather kind of like my vague impression of D&D. Either way, none of the stage’s permanent fixtures are particularly true to life. They’re flexible, multi purposed objects that adapt and shift to create the world that needs creating. The frame, however, literally could not be anything else. Its purpose is singular and pre-determined: to contain something.

However, that something isn’t here – at least not for us. For the bank robber characters, it’s totally real, but it’s different for each of them. Serena sees in it a new life in which, ironically, she is able to stop committing art theft. Rosa sees a path to a confident, sincere new self. Will sees an easier route to notoriety than is offered by his back of house job at Pizza Express. What could possibly be shown to us that would reflect everything they all perceive in a single painting? That’s the crux: value is not more inherent in art than it is in anything else. We give it value by seeing something else in it. Beauty – and worth – are in the eye of the beholder.

Although the worldbuilding is largely verbal, the use of light and shadow in particular adds some good depth to an otherwise plain stage. As the lines between the game and the players seem to blur a little, the increased vividity, for example the tunnel of lasers, is effective. I think that it’s a nice change to see work where its development process is celebrated rather than concealed on stage. It’s obviously a piece built collaboratively by friends, and that nature isn’t hidden away. To hide it wouldn’t make sense: if the piece suggests that art is devoid of inherent meaning, then what is left to be celebrated except effort and community?

Even though the philosophical debate of this show is generally in relation to art and its value, I leave thinking about how we can define ourselves, and the often unconscious lines between being our ‘real’ selves and performing something else. It’s a sensitive and gentle look at the world, even through the lens of three slightly chaotic and unpredictable would-be international art robbers with heavily varying degrees of competence.

Art Heist played the New Diorama Theatre until 26 October. For more information, visit the New Diorama website.