Sunday, 9 October 2005

Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright, Oct 7, 2005

Vincent in Brixton  by Nicholas Wright 
Red Stitch Actors Theatre
 Rear 2a Chapel St. St. Kilda. Oct 7 until Nov 5, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Oct 7, 2005

It is unusual to see a totally naturalistic period piece on stage these days. 

Vincent in Brixton, written by Nicholas Wright and directed by Jonathan Messer is such a production. The iron stove, the tea, the potatoes, even the brussel sprouts are real. Initially, this is distracting, but as the character of Vincent Van Gogh is established, the play becomes absorbing.

The premise is that the 20 year-old Vincent, (Adam Hunter) before his career as a painter, worked for an art dealer in London and boarded in a house run by a kind landlady, Ursula Loyer, (Saskia Post) a schoolmistress and widow of a Frenchman.

Ursula's crippling depression presages Vincent's own future mental illness. He understands and accepts her black moods unquestioningly, qietly observing and protecting her.

Two scenes make the play intensely emotive and compelling: the suspenseful seduction between Vincent and Ursula and the tense scene on his return from Holland with his sister. (Olivia Connolly)

The writing in the first and last scenes is thinner and less successful. The ending seems unlikely and contrived. Ursula's depression seems connected not to grief or loss of love, but to Vincent's commitment to his own artistic career.

The claustrophobic quality of the late 19th century Brixton boarding house kitchen intensifies the intimacy of the central relationship if Van Gogh and his kindly widowed landlady, Ursula Loyer.

As Vincent, Hunter captures the naivete, romanticism and tactlessness of the young man, Hunter is more attractive than Vincent but his charm, honesty and awkwardness ring true.

As Ursula, Post is captivating. Her stillness and barely masked sadness are very moving.

The relationship between the two evolves gently with subtle glances and shared confidences over months. It is like a slow, intimate dance.

Messer's direction has a close focus on the central characters and takes care of the gentle rhythms of the developing relationship.

Nicholas Wright's script is dense with dialogue. He extrapolates on the three year period, about which little is known, during which Vincent Van Gogh lived in England. Wright uses Van Gogh's indulgent, religious, obsessional personality to create this intense world.

The play's success relies on the success of the two vital scenes and Red Stitch has a commendable production of it.

By Kate Herbert

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