Vincent in Brixton

Written by Nicholas Wright, Directed by Peter Rowe
Liverpool Everyman (17th – 21st April 2007)

Reviewed by Mark Langshaw

It is easy to see why Nicholas Wright’s Vincent in Brixton was so well received when it debuted at the National Theatre in 2002. The play documents Vincent Van Gough’s time in suburban London, before he knew art or infamy, but its real intention is to delve deep into the hearts and minds of its characters. The set consists solely of a Victorian kitchen, which has been recreated down to the finest detail – even the stove and sink are in full working order.

Phillip Cumbus’ performance as the whimsical Van Gough portrays him as something of a tortured soul, addled by doubt and driven by naïve enthusiasm. The story begins when he finds himself drawn to a girl he encounters outside a house which bears a ‘To Let’ sign. He takes up lodging there immediately, confessing his ulterior motive to the landlady (Francesca Ryan), who happens to be the girl’s mother.

Cultural boundaries are broken when Dutch exuberance meets suburban modesty and life soon falls into disarray. When Vincent ends up seducing the widowed mother, tensions peak and things descend into chaos.

Cumbus has a commanding stage presence and shows off his ability to fill an entire room with it in every scene. Francesca Ryan’s gloomy portrayal of the widowed mother is equally convincing, her emotional range really coming through after the character is ignited by Vincent’s love. Colourful performances by Claudia Renton and Tim Delap (as the landlady’s daughter and her lover) give the show its lighter moments, but soon they are soon swept up by the turmoil brought about by the arrival of Vincent’s antagonistic and manipulative sister, Anna (a frightening Anna Lauren).

Skillfully written and passionately performed, this is a powerful drama with ample sprinklings of quirkiness and sensitivity. Whether you love or despise the work of Vincent Van Gough, it is difficult not to be moved by this emotive production.

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