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Vincent in Brixton

National Tour
12 March - 06 June 2009
A co-production with Original Theatre Company
in association with South Hill Park Arts Centre and Anvil Arts
Vincent in Brixton

Vincent in Brixton

By Nicholas Wright

Winner of the 2003 Olivier Award for best new play, this great show wrenches home the destructive qualities of both love and art and the sacrifices made by those who create it.
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Reviews

 

Martyn Jex, Maidenhead Advertiser

Remarkably, most people would not know that Vincent van Gogh spent some of his younger years in Brixton and this poignant piece of theatre focuses on some of those years as an Art dealer in London.

Based around letters written to his brother, this story depicts the relationship Gogh had with his landlady, Ursula Loyer (Lin Blakley).
The scene is set within a simple, fully functional 19th Century kitchen, which gave the entire piece its authenticity and certainly made this production memorable.

Mark Edel-Hunt (Van Gogh) conveyed the beginnings of this unharnessed genius with stylish passion, which resonated through the entire company of five, most notably Nicola Sangster who portrayed Gogh’s sister Anna with charm and wit, so befitting this masterpiece.

At no point through the two hours did this appreciative audience feel fidgety, but were embroiled in this high status piece of theatre. This emotional and passionate work was truly a delight, and maybe urged the audience into further research of this priceless artist.

 

Robert Cohen, The Argus


Vincent in Brixton
Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, till Saturday

'A woman does not grow old as long as she loves and is loved.' This contention, expressed by Vincent van Gogh in a letter of 1874, lies at the heart of Nicholas Wright's highly speculative, highly enjoyable account of the great man's little-known London years.

Arriving as a lodger at the Brixton home of Ursula Loyer, the young Dutchman quickly recognises a kindred spirit in his melancholic landlady. 'You want whatever makes you unhappiest', he alleges at one point in their doomed affair. Certainly, after 15 years' mourning for her late husband, Ursula seems suited to her misery - yet she embraces her sudden unexpected glimpse of happiness with a touching and ultimately tragic enthusiasm.

Mark Edel-Hunt's skilfully wrought Vincent is awkward and shy yet frequently arrogant and insensitive - something of a handful, in short, and yet you get the attraction. Lin Blakley is heartrendingly affecting as Ursula, an apparently formidable woman who proves unprepared for the emotional torrents into which she is thrown.

There is excellent support from Emma Vane as Ursula's daughter Eugenie, Alastair Whatley as her fiancé Dan, and Nicola Sangster as Vincent's clodhoppingly gauche sister Anna, expert comic timing belying the catastrophic effect her character has on all around her.

 

Julie Watterson, The Stage


Vincent Van Gogh’s stay in London in 1873 is generally an unnoticed period in his life yet it probably covers some of the most catalytic developments towards his psychological demise.

As Vincent’s youthful passion for his landlady’s daughter is replaced by a lusty affair with the landlady herself, a dark side to his character develops. Even the landlady notices that his inner antagonisms are not expressed externally in his sketches and once he realises that his work can be used as an outlet for anger and frustration, then he focuses in on experiencing despair for the sake of his art. The play ends as his psychosis begins to take hold.

Mark Edel-Hunt gives an excellent performance as Vincent. His well-studied Dutch accent and strong characterisation is the lynchpin to the success of this production, as Edel-Hunt develops Vincent’s character from a young, excitable foreigner in London into the beginnings of the Van Gogh that history remembers.

Lin Blakley is the landlady Ursula Loyer whose widow’s weeds and exterior serenity cover her internal depression and suppressed passion with Amy Ellen Richardson as her daughter Eugenie and Alastair Whatley as the other lodger and Eugenie’s secret lover. Nicola Sangster completes the cast as Vincent’s sister Anna.

Directed by Max Lewendel with the working Victorian kitchen set designed by Christopher Hone, the production takes place around the large kitchen table that provides an inanimate mechanism from which the play emerges.

 

Francis Batt, Ascot, Windsor and Eton Express

Reprinted in the Slough and South Bucks Express

"Before a Starry, Starry Night.”

The painter Van Gogh seems to exercise an endless fascination.  People who would not know a Picasso from a Constable can tell you that the Dutchman painted sunflowers and cut his ear off.

But how many people know that he spent some of his early life living in Victorian Brixton while working as an art dealer?

That much is true.  But little else is known about that period of his life, so playwright Nicholas Wright was able to let his imagination run riot when he wrote his play Vincent in Brixton, which was first staged for the National Theatre in 2002.

We first see Vincent in the play being briskly interviewed for his suitability as a lodger by his potential landlady Ursula, as she prepares dinner.  She seems a competent, likeable sort of woman, apparently unfazed by the gushing, excitable Dutchman in her house.

Also resident are her daughter Eugenie and a good-natured young painter and decorator Sam, who has aspirations to be an artist.

It seems to be a comfortable, relaxed home.  But as Sam tells Vincent, “nothing in this house is what it seems.”

The painful emotional drama that unfolds finds two of the house’s residents drawn together by their mutual depression and despair into a doomed affair that destroys one of them.

The pain and inevitability of living with limited horizons and the inability of the truly gifted to commit to their fellow human beings, are all touched on.  By the end, Vincent is truly the outsider, even as his pencil starts to sketch the trapped and wretched people whose only chance of immortality is by being captured through his genius.

It is not exactly a bundle of laughs but it is all real and convincing.

Ursula and her daughter cook the most impressive-looking meal I have seen created live on stage since Shirley Valentine made egg and chips for her husband.

Mark Edel-Hunt is a fine Van Gogh, young and unformed but already crazily hungry for life and bordering on obsession.  Alastair Whatley and Amy Ellen Richardson are pitch perfect as nice, decent Sam and the down-to-earth Eugenie.  Nicola Sangster is nicely hateful as Vincent’s reproving, obsessively religious sister Anna and Lin Blakley, as Ursula, has to travel a million emotional miles during course of the play and seizes the opportunity with relish.

 

Dennis Martin, Surrey and Hants and Post Gazette

 

Vincent in Brixton is a play about a young Dutch art dealer called Vincent Van Gogh, living in London in 1873.  A chance meeting with Eugenie (Amy Ellen Richardson) draws the young Vincent (Mark Edel-Hunt) to enquire about the room to rent at 87 Hackford Road in Brixton so that he can get to know Eugenie whom he believes he is completely in love with.

Vincent soon comes to realise that it is actually his grieving landlady Ursula (Lin Blakley) whose darkness and despair he understands.  He can see himself reflected in her as he is highly emotional, lacking self-confidence and struggling to understand who he was and where he fits in the world.  This leads Vincent into a secret and chaotic relationship with Ursula that will change his life forever.

The play is set in an authentic working kitchen and the smells of cooking filled the theatre and in turn helped to transport the audience back to the year 1873 and life as it was at 87 Hackford Road.  This amazing play shows us the darker destructive side of love intertwined with art and the painful sacrifices those who create it are sometimes forced to make.

Mark Edel-Hunt’s performance as Vincent was excellent, expressing all of the different emotions that were trapped within this genius and this enabled the audience to better understand the man as he struggled with the relationships that he had with the people around him.

Equally impressive is Lin Blakley whose portrayal of Ursula makes their relationship all the more realistic.

Alastair Whatley also gave a very strong performance as Sam, the other lodger, painter and decorator and artist, living at 87 Hackford Road, whose Marxist view of the ownership of art and his love with Eugenie constantly bringing him into conflict with the jealous Vincent.

The set and the period costumes are also brilliant, leading to a fantastic theatrical experience.

 

Letter to the Eastbourne Herald

 

THESPIAN TREAT WAS NEGLECTED

Some of the best acting to be seen in Britain was at our local Devonshire Park Theatre in the play by Nicholas Wright entitled Vincent in Brixton - June 1-6.

But why, oh why, were there so few people there to enjoy this thespian treat?

It seems such a great shame this lovely theatre has such poor audiences. Is it financial constraints or lack of interest?

Keep an eye on their up-and-coming advertising features, or you might miss a treat.

JL Dineen
Carlisle Road

 

Paul Bowers, Farnham Herald

 

THIS IS WHAT THEATRE IS ALL ABOUT

 

The young Vincent Van Gogh stayed in Brixton in 1873 while he trained as an art dealer and from there sent a number of letters to his brother Theo and to his friend W. J. Van Stockum in the Hague.

Although the young and troubled artist does not mention anything specific, the letters suggest that something significant happened to Van Gogh at the house in Hackford Road, particularly in the letter to Theo in July 1874 where he shares his view that a woman does not grow old as long as she loves and is loved.  He also explains his discovery that women are entirely different from men and cannot be easily understood.  Finally, he reveals that men and women can literally become one, not simply two separate halves tied together, but instead a complete whole.

It was on this premise that playwright Nicholas Wright wrote Vincent in Brixton, currently showing at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford.  We are all aware of the frustrated and tormented genius that was Van Gogh who incredibly only ever sold one of his paintings throughout his short career.  However, Wright instead tries to paint a portrait of the young man before his demons have taken full control of him and attempts to explore some of the issues which may have driven him insane.

The story, although based on letters, is fictional.  There is a “significant gap” in his letters during the time he stayed in Brixton, suggesting that during this period something happened which his Dutch relatives felt so unmentionable that they destroyed these letters.  This story takes place during these lost years.

Van Gogh, played by Mark Edel-Hunt, arrives in London and takes up lodgings at the house of Ursula Loyer in Brixton.  The residents in the house share dark secrets; nothing is what it seems.  Initially Vincent believes he has fallen in love with Ursula’s daughter Eugenie, played by Amy Ellen Richardson; however, on realising Eugenie was having a secret relationship with Sam Plowman, Vincent instead falls in love with Ursula, played by the talented Lin Blakely.

To begin with, Vincent brings some joy into the life of the older woman, however, after being persuaded by his sister Anna, played by Nicola Sangster, that his relationship with Ursula is morally wrong, Vincent leaves Ursula for Paris where he eventually loses his job and drifts into poverty and deep depression.

The play perfectly depicts depression, first experienced by Ursula, who, like Queen Victoria, dresses entirely in black, except for the period when she and Vincent are lovers.  The slow heavy atmosphere created by the words and by the movement of the actors is broken only periodically by a moment of levity and few in the audience could fail to be drawn in by the raw emotion exuding from every scene.

The actors gave an honest portrayal of their characters, particularly Mark Edel-Hunt, whose Dutch accent slightly wobbled at the start of the play, but who successfully expressed the growing conflict swelling within the young artist between the pressure from his family to conform to Dutch traditions and values and being with the woman he loved.

The set was incredibly detailed, allowing the actors to make tea with both leaves and running hot water, as well as a sink where they could actually wash up their pots and pans.  This all added to the intensity of the play.

 

Anya Hastwell, Remote Goat

 

In the days before absinthe, sunflowers and severed ears, Vincent van Gogh was a young Dutchman and unknown art dealer, living in 87 Hackford Road, Brixton. Vincent (Mark Edel-Hunt) is a young man brimming with enthusiasm and ambition to succeed in the art world – along with a definite case of religious fervour. His is taken in by his middle-aged landlady (Lin Blakley) who runs a school in the same house along with her daughter, Eugenie (Amy Ellen Richardson), who also lives there.

The onstage set quite impressively didn’t shake, or wobble, and the continuously steaming kettle on the hob was a nice touch. Adding to the house party is Sam, a lodger whose clandestine relationship with Eugenie is the bane and fascination of young Vincent – who falls in love with Eugenie at first sight. After confessing his feelings for her to Ursula, she orders that he must leave. He vows to keep his feelings to himself in order to stay there, and writes letters to his brother Theo as an emotional outlet whilst growing gradually more neurotic. Vincent goes to visit his family – and returns with his younger, more irritating sister Anna (Nicola Sangster) in tow. Vincent meanwhile moves into the box room while his sister takes his room, obsessively cleaning the house while indiscreetly prying into the affair between Sam and Eugenie, who have no plans for marriage. In the meantime, Vincent finds his feelings transferred to Ursula instead, somewhat conveniently, and coins the immortal line: “a woman does not grow old as long as she loves and is loved.”

In places, this play is a little dry, although there’s a subtle humour running all the way through, it would appeal most to van Gogh fans. I confess I was looking forward to seeing some interpretations of Vincent’s alcoholic absinthe-fuelled insanity, but you can’t have everything in life I suppose. This play is a must-see if you want to understand what drove the young van Gogh; his occasionally fanatical religious beliefs; and his introduction to women, which was by one much older than himself.

 

Ros Collins, Surrey Advertiser

 
VIVID PORTRAYAL OF ARTIST’S EARLY LIFE

 

Based on characters who existed, and in the period when Vincent Van Gogh lived in South London, Vincent in Brixton explores the influences, experiences and artistic temperament that might have shaped Van Gogh’s outlook and fruition as a creative master during this formative time.

Nicholas Wright, who wrote the play, was inspired by Vincent’s letters and in particular where there appeared to be a gap, due to missing correspondence, which may have been destroyed by his respectable Dutch relatives – embarrassed by possible revelations which didn’t adhere to their idea of morality.

The play is a fictionalised attempt to fill that gap and succeeds so well that I was completely drawn in and believed completely in the scenario that it posited.  Mark Edel-Hunt played the passionate, gauche young Vincent to perfection complete with an authentic-sounding Dutch accent.

His burgeoning sexual and intellectual relationship with his older landlady demonstrated how a natural sympathy, affinity of temperament and understanding can supersede traditional norms of attraction based merely on the physical.

And Lin Blakley as his lover, Ursula Loyer, ably conveyed the pain of her dark moods temporarily alleviated by her love and encouragement of Vincent for whom she could see potential.

Indeed the cast of five were all excellent, providing a great ensemble, who played off each other well.

 

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