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Review: Art Heist (Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh)

Poltergeist's new show looks at art and how we value it

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Art Heist
© Shankho Chaudhuri

It's a fairly diverting hour watching Poltergeist's new show Art Heist, which features three people playing a kind of game in which a narrator guides their attempts to steal the same painting at the same time. There's the hardcore art burglar (think Mission Impossible), the chancer (who dresses as a chef to get into the gallery at night) and the unpredictable obsessive.

We watch as the three unsure thieves talk us through their strategies, which involve making a sandwich for the security guard, bashing up the entry system panels and pretending to be an artwork in the gallery of statues in the face of discovery. They each spend a long time being distracted by the gift shop. Meanwhile, overseeing the action is the philosophical and well-meaning security guard who muses out to the audience. And the question which floats over things is: who will win the painting in the end? There's everything to play for.

It's all performed with a real sense of beguiling silliness by the company. But whilst it's an enjoyable time, the themes running through it don't penetrate. Art Heist purports to be about the role of art in society, and it isn't much clearer what this vague statement means having watched it. There are some illuminating, wry observations – I learned that the material those lavish gold frames are actually made from is composite, or basically any old rubbish, and how nobody really knew about the Mona Lisa until someone attempted to steal it. The idea that a story is the thing which adds value to something is also interesting, but it's definitely not new.

In fact, most of this show's ideas aren't new. And while the company use a nice variety of technology amid some (slightly pointless) audience interaction, overall there's a jarring sense of smugness about it all. It's engagingly performed, and often quite fun, but that's not quite enough.

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