British stand-up comedian Jack Dee makes his theatrical debut tonight in the West End's hit comedy Art. Along with Roger Allam and Mick Ford,this will be the fifth cast for the West End production of Yasmina Reza's play about friendship and modern art which won the 1997 Olivier award for Best Comedy.
From the initial trio of stars - Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Ken Stott - the play has attracted top-notch British actors since it opened at Wyndham's Theatre in October 1996. Enticed by both the quality of the production and the attractiveness of limited three-month runs that are less disruptive to other professional engagements, players on the role call so far have included Henry Goodman (now playing in Chicago for which he's earned a 1998 Olivier nomination), David Haig, Nigel Havers and Anton Lesser.
RSC regular Roger Allam, who appeared in the third cast, has returned to the fifth but in a different role. According to director Matthew Warchus, he'd like to see more role-swapping with the ultimate aim to have one cast who perform the play's three parts in rotation. Warchus has already had some success with the rotational concept which he employed in the Donmar Warehouse's 1994 production of Sam Shepard's story about two brothers, True West.
Dee has said he's also open to the concept although he wants to get his first major acting role as the harassed middle man Yvan under his belt. A veteran of the stand-up circuit, Dee became a household name in 1992 when he hosted his own show on the UK's Channel 4. Since then, his has been the familiar face of John Smith's bitter in many television commercials. In 1997, Dee won the prestigious British Comedy Award. He's hoping his Art experience will give him grounding for more acting roles.
Warchus is now setting off to New York to rehearse the first American cast - Alfred Molina, Alan Alda and Victor Garber - for a Broadway production of Art to open in March. He's then back in London to direct another Reza play - The Unexpected Man - for the RSC which will open at London's Barbican Centre in April. Although Warchus claims this is a less commercial production, he has been reported as having Helen Mirren and Michael Gambon keen to sign on.