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Playhouse Theatre Company

Vincent in Brixton
By Nicholas Wright

Director Glynis Leyshon Set and costumes Pam Johnson Lighting Itai Erdal Sound Alessandro Juliani Stage Manager Rick Rinder

Dates 21 January - 11 February 2006 Venue Vancouver Playhouse Reviewer Jane Penistan

Vincent in Brixton

Vincent in Brixton is Nicholas Wright’s interpretation of Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his family, together with other biographical information, about the time that the painter was in London, working for his uncle’s firm of international art dealers. It is here, as a young man, Vincent van Gogh learns about life in a big city in a culture other than his own. Brought up in a strictly religious household, he is naïve, tactless and outspoken.

Brixton of the 1870’s was a respectable, lower, middle class neighbourhood. What went on within the houses was nobody’s business but that of the residents. Renting rooms to young people working away from home was a common practice. Impecunious householders were thus enabled to keep their homes intact and the young city workers could live with families in the unfamiliar and impersonal city.

As the red headed Vincent van Gogh, Vincent Gale presents a gauche young man, interested in every one and every thing about him. As his experience widens he becomes a perceptive observer of his landlady, Ursula Loyer, her daughter and the other lodger Sam Plowman. Soon he finds himself in love with his landlady, who is careful of their relationship.

During a brief return to Holland Vincent begins sketching and brings his drawing to show his English friends his homeland. He also begins figure drawing using Mrs. Loyer as his model. He is accompanied this time by his sharp eyed, energetic younger sister, Anna (Meg Roe). Anna is a disruptive force in the household and she and Vincent leave precipitately.

Disenchanted with his employment, and later, as the result of a discussion with Sam, he becomes more aware of the gap between rich and poor. An unsuccessful transfer to Paris, and loss of employment brings Vincent back to London where he becomes obsessed with becoming a preacher like his father, but this is not his vocation either, and he gradually deteriorates into an aimless wanderer, uncertain of his future.

Still finding in his psychologically unstable, erstwhile landlady some inspiration of hope for the future, Vincent brings her flowers for her birthday and accepts the hospitable comfort of a cup of tea as he idly sketches his worn boots drying on the table The characterization of Vincent is brilliantly portrayed by Vincent Gale.

As the centre of the household, Ursula Loyer, Seana McKenna, is a dignified widow, trying to run a school for young children, a mother with hopes for her daughter’s future and a lonely, hopeless woman. Her maternal instinct initially draws her to Vincent, but this attraction becomes something much stronger. Eventually, Vincent’s absence and her failing school drive her into depression. It is her concern for his wellbeing and her comforting cup of tea, which bring warmth and hope to end the play. This is an impeccable performance.

As the daughter, Eugenie Loyer, Moya O’ Connell is self-assured and charming. Eminently able to take care of her, she and Sam Plowman (Andrew McNee) carry on a close relationship, which Ursula recognises. She feels that the steady Sam will be a safe husband for her daughter and encourages their secret assignations. When Sam gives up his scholarship to Art school to marry Eugenie he also recognizes what Vincent has told him, that he lacks the vision to become a really good artist.

As Anna, Meg Roe brings youth and energy into the now somewhat decaying household, but her bustling ways and perception of the condition of the house and its inhabitants are too much for everyone else. She and Vincent leave Brixton abruptly. With her goes the breath of fresh air.

Pam Johnson’s set is spacious and full of the necessities of a Victorian boarding house kitchen. The loose wallpaper adds just the small intimation that all is not fully under control in the housekeeping department. The costumes are well suited to the actors’ roles. The corseted, tightly laced, women’s dresses are in keeping with the unrevealed inner feelings, the outward respectability of the age. The dresses look as comfortable as the fashion allowed, and are worn well. Alessandro Juliani’s music and soundscape fit the script and add to the atmosphere, which Itai Erdal’s beautifully designed and executed lighting produce.

This is an excellent performance of the script by a playwright who is little known in Vancouver, Nicholas Wright. It is a perceptive view of the London life of the young van Gogh with intermingled prophetic allusions. An intriguing and beautiful production.

© 2006 Jane Penistan