Reviews Edinburgh Published 20 August 2014

Great Artists Steal

The Space @ Jeffrey Street ⋄ 1st - 23rd August 2014

Theft and creativity.

Crystal Bennes

Good artists copy, great artists steal. Or so holds the famous aphorism, commonly attributed to Pablo Picasso, but most likely derived from remarks made by T.S. Eliot in a 1920s essay on poetry: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal;bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” The point being that all artists (or scientists, inventors, etc) beg, borrow or steal from those who came before, but only a few are capable of transforming that which they have taken to make it completely their own.

One assumes such thoughts inspired Great Artists Steal, a production by French company Theatraverse, written by Seamus Collins and performed by the trio of Melanie Tanneau, Siva Nagapattinam Kasi and Cédric Mérillon.

From the outset, there’s a distinct division between the three into two camps: “the man” and “the woman”, as they are wittily named, have faces painted white and speak in a strange English, stilted and inverted – like the words have been machine-translated into Mandarin and back again. The third, “the younger man”, speaks exclusively French. I’m rather charmed by this, but my companion, who speaks no French, reveals afterwards that he felt rather lost.

There’s something primitive about the man and the woman, as if we’ve gone back in time, to witness the birth of bread, rope, fire, weapons, song and even love, if it’s possible to imagine such a thing as the invention of love. The man is a great inventor, his dirty secret being that he has stolen all of his inventions from a succession of younger men inventors. After each thievery, the man promptly dispatches each younger inventor with the aid of his handy new rope. The younger man invents; the woman falls in love with the younger man; the man steals inventions and kills the younger man: this cycle of creating, thieving and then killing off (metaphorically, of course) the previous inventor presumably never ends.

While Collins puts an amusing slant on the titular saying – there’s a Beckettian absurdity at play, not to mention a delicious comedic physicality – the play feels more like a process than a message. The problem is that there just hasn’t been enough of a steal to justify the borrowing of the phrase “great artists steal” for the title. Novelty and terrific physical and verbal commitment from the three actors carry you through for at least the first half of the production, but by the end I was left wondering what more needed to be said about invention, creativity and originality that wasn’t already encapsulated in the title.

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Crystal Bennes is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Great Artists Steal Show Info


Directed by Joanne Allan

Written by Seamus Collins

Cast includes Melanie Tanneau, Siva Nagapattinam Kasi and Cédric Mérillo

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