Written by Nicholas Wright, Directed by Peter Rowe
– 21st April 2007)
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.