Shark Tank @ The Stanley Picker Gallery Review

“Why did I create this exhibition? I wanted money!” And with this line so the tone is set for Shark Tank, a convivial lampooning of the vapid world of modern art. The protagonist Veronica is a gallery owner, whose idealised views of art and artistic vision clash with the reality of selling out in a money obsessed art world. As her gallery struggles to stay afloat it is the opening night of a new exhibition that will either make or break her. Everything looks great, the art is beautifully hung and the “posh snacks” are waiting to be consumed. There’s one problem however- no one’s been invited.

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Veronica and haughty office worker Beth are equally hapless with technology and don’t know their Facebook invites from their “twats”, sorry, tweets. As everything starts to go wrong, they are forced to enlist the help of the sassy and street-wise Daisy to bring in the punters. As an art blogger and the daughter of a wealthy art dealer, she provides the key to a wealth of contacts.

Shark Tank is written by Nik Way and co-directed by Alexandra Chernaya, both current students at Kingston University and founders of the Nuclear Jam Theatre Company. Performed in the Stanley Picker Gallery, the audience could be in Mayfair, rather than tucked away in a quiet corner of Kingston University.

Here, a rag tag ensemble of eccentric guests threaten to do more harm to the integrity of the night than good. On paper they are just the sort of people Veronica wants, young, arty and well connected, but in reality they are a bunch of self obsessed creeps. Millicent is a top art critic for the Guardian, well, at least she was until she got divorced. Now she blogs freelance for an obscure online website and is more interested in the free wine on offer than writing glowing reviews.

Hamish, an art student, is more concerned with sharing his business cards and dreadful artwork of a toilet roll, which he awkwardly rolls away hand after it’s clear that no one is interested. Pompous enemy (and successful) art gallery owner Ralf-Otto attempts to ruin his rivals by stealing their guests with offers of free food.

Most hilarious is the Imbecilic Percy the politician, a satire of George Osbourne (Nik Hay), who after wielding massive cuts to the arts sector, cynically attempts to bolster his public image by attending the private view. Flanked by his assistant and spare brain Liz (Alexandra Chernaya), he tries to buy art he doesn’t understand and invariably drifts into monologues about living in distressing times, to the antipathy of the guests.

It is hard to discern which is more insipid, the guests in attendance, or the artwork on show. Modern art literally is rubbish- as Beth reveals as the gallery janitor takes out two bags of identical rubbish- “that one’s art and that one’s trash.” As it becomes clear that the artist won’t be attending his opening, Veronica and Beth are forced to dress the blonde, female Janitor up as the male, Japanese Mr Yamada. The Janitor makes a mockery of the art through her ignorance of the subject- “I put my little finger in frame- that is art!”

As the night quickly descends into farce, Veronica becomes the person she’s always feared- driven by image and embarrassment, she is brought down by the people around her, who for all their connections are not really interested in art or its integrity, rather in destroying art through reviews, bringing in numbers and making money. It is this conflict that makes Shark Tank an interesting viewing.

At times the message that art has become cheap, without real value unless you can put a hefty price tag on it., feels a bit on the nose and preachy. The play is littered with selfies and hash tag jokes, which if you despise such things can grate, but is meant to be the point. Shark Tank is a thoughtful and well-written play, managing to be intelligent without detracting from its humour. #Brilliant! 4/5

Review written by Evan Parker.

Shark Tank was shown as part of this year’s International Youth Arts Festival from Wednesday 23rd July until Friday 25th July. For more information on the festival, visit here…

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