24 July 2019 / Keirunga Hub, Havelock North / By Jess Soutar Barron
Vincent is a piece based on polarities. In a space between dead and alive, gone and present, dark and light, sanity and madness, commercial reality and creative obsession, two brothers push each other, mirror each other, match each other, meet each other’s needs, pull against each other to tell a story of Vincent, the Vincent, and his brother Theo. Through thousands of letters shared between the two the play captures the lead up to Vincent’s last year. And, in that year, his most prolific period of art making.
Daniel Betty plays both roles. He carves out literal space for each of the characters and brings them to life through careful consideration of mannerism and gesture, voice and tone, stance, eye flicker. Vincent is played at pace in staccato his eyes darting upwards and unblinking, a zealot, sleep-starved, jittery. Theo is methodical, articulated andante, thoughtful and predictable in movement, assured and reassuring. Defining the two in this way means the story can rocket along without clumsy changeouts. At times, though, this is its downfall. Pace, pitch and projection are en pointe, but the piece would benefit from thoughtful pause, for the audience to catch up.
Betty delivers the work with academic rigour. It is a challenge to feel visceral emotion for the piece as it is wordy. It’s intellectually rewarding and contemplative but there’s no kick to the solar plexus, it’s the telling of the tale, not a delivery of the feelings involved.
The set is crafted to reflect Bedroom in Arles. It’s familiar and so comforting as a setting for the power punch that comes beat after beat to fill brains. It’s satisfying to see so many Van Gogh tropes hidden in the mise en scene: woven rush chair, cornflower scarf, hat.
Vincent is supported by complex audio visual augmentation. The desk is run though by a heavy hand and with this subtle and controlled piece is at times overshadowed by abrupt and clunky lighting changes. The screen projections too are potentially a little literal, perhaps a less defined screen would have balanced the piece and worked to support it rather than dominate it. Much of this though is due to the tiny black box theatre at Keirunga, such a treasure, but in need of careful handling. Vincent must now work across two other, very different, spaces at CHB Municipal Theatre and the MTG Century Theatre. It will be a delight to see it stretch out into more generous proportions. What was delivered in this space, however, was unmatchable: an intimate and up close portrait of a man, pulled between madness and genius.
VINCENT is on again 26 July at CHB Municipal Theatre & 27 July at MTG Century Theatre
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