Old Masters

Previewed 26 June 2004, Opened 1 July 2004, Closed 18 December 2004 at the Comedy Theatre (now Harold Pinter Theatre)

A major production of Simon Gray's new play Old Masters in London starring Edward Fox and Peter Bowles and directed by Harold Pinter.

1937, a perfect summer´s day. In the magnificent gardens of his opulent Villa overlooking Florence, Bernard Berenson, the renowned Art critic, connoisseur, writer, and collector, is taking his ease discussing art and world affairs with his wife, Mary, and with Nicky, his mistress. Meanwhile, unknown to Berenson, in a hotel in Florence, multimillionaire Joseph Duveen, the world´s most pre-eminent art dealer, is preparing to visit him late that night. He has with him a priceless Renaissance painting for Berenson to examine - though he knows that this may shatter their 30 year-old - and highly secret - business arrangement.

Midnight in a library in Mussolini´s Italy. Two Jewish intellectuals with the storm gathering around them. Men who virtually invented the international art market - and an enigmatic masterpiece at the heart of the matter: how much does the true value of a work of art depend on its attribution? What happens when that attribution is open to doubt? The Old Masters lays open the fascinating world of the market in fine art, exploring issues of true value, of provenance, and of forgery and fraud artistic and personal, via the real life relationship between Duveen and Berenson.

The cast for The Old Masters in London features Edward Fox as 'Bernard Berenson', Peter Bowles as 'Joseph Duveen' and Barbara Jefford as 'Mary' along with Sally Dexter as 'Nicky' and Steven Pacey as 'Edward Fowles' (up to 13 November only). Directed by Harold Pinter with designs by Eileen Diss, costumes by Dany Everett, lighting by Mick Hughes and sound by John Leonard. This is the ninth play in Simon Gray and Harold Pinter's long standing writer / director partnership. Peter Bowles' West End credits include Ron Hutchinson's new play The Beau (Haymarket Theatre 2001). Simon Gray's West End theatre plays include The Holy Terror, Butley, Otherwise Engaged, Life Support, Quartermaine's Terms, The Last Cigarette and The Common Pursuit.

"The Old Masters concerns the partnership between the art dealer Joseph Duveen and the art historian Bernard Berenson, known as BB. He would misattribute paintings or authenticate copies so that Duveen could deceive and defraud American millionaires and museums. The play's subject, however, is how people choose, for their own convenience, to see some things and to turn a blind eye to others, in relationships and morality as well as paintings... Peter Bowles is very good as the swindling Duveen, a showman to the tip of his fat cigar, sickened that he is having to adopt the techniques of a streettrader to flog masterpieces to moneyed morons. Edward Fox's BB does his familiar upper-crust Englishman turn, all plums, eyebrows and strangled whinnying, but to considerable effect. Still, a play about points of view only comes into sharp focus in the scene when these two marvellous, contrasting figures come to verbal blows." The Mail on Sunday

"Edward Fox, looking more like a haggard Edward VIII than an art-historical pontiff, portrays Bernard Berenson as an old goat, unfaithful to both his amanuensis mistress and his dying wife. Sally Dexter and Barbara Jefford almost steal the show by humanising the monster and making us think he mattered. Simon Gray and Harold Pinter's group portrait is not a masterpiece, but it shows that authentic critics can't be bought." The Sunday Times

"Joseph Duveen was a wheeler-dealer to his fingertips. Some of Bernard Berenson's practices were distinctly dodgy. The story of their relationship inevitably prompts thoughts about art, money, truth, authenticity, personal authority. All these themes are touched on by Simon Gray, intelligently and often wittily. So are the rise of fascism and the approach of war. But the effect, when wider issues are raised, is rather bitty... In some ways I wish Gray had decided to write about fictional characters based on them, rather than about the men themselves... Take the play on its own terms, however, and Edward Fox gives a highly enjoyable performance. So does Peter Bowles, whose Duveen is a smooth operator you ought to recoil from but somehow can't help cheering on. Their big scene is vintage boulevard acting, of the kind you seldom see in the West End nowadays; it is backed up by Barbara Jefford, a tragic but formidable Mary, and Sally Dexter, a vivid presence as Nicky." The Sunday Telegraph

Old Masters in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 26 June 2004, opened on 1 July 2004 and closed on 18 December 2004.