Review by David Munro
VINCENT in Brixton, now on tour and presently at the Richmond
Theatre, comes garlanded with four Awards for its West End
presentation, and a Tony nomination for its New York production.
Could it, I wondered, live up to its reputation? The answer
is yes. In fact, as far as I was concerned, it more than deserved
the acclamation it had received.
The play deals with a period in the life of Vincent Van Gogh
when he lodged with a Mrs Ursula Loyer, in Brixton.
After an initial attraction to Mrs Loyer's daughter, Eugenie,
he falls in love with Mrs Loyer and they become lovers, which,
the play postulates, stimulates him into leaving the commercial
world of selling art and becoming an artist.
Whilst Van Gogh, or Mr Vincent as he calls himself, is the nominal
main character, it is in fact on Mrs Loyer on whom the play depends.
It is her reaction to Van Gogh and her transformation from indifference
into an all-consuming and ultimately destructive love for him
that gives it the dramatic impetus.
As Mrs Loyer, Clare Higgins give a performance which has been
justly praised and honoured. I wondered whether, at the time she
won those awards, her performance was as perfect as the one I
was lucky enough to witness at Richmond.
It was faultless; every detail sketched in with absolute precision
and consummate artistry.
From the opening, when she is preparing a meal, cutting up vegetables
and at the same time interviewing Vincent as a prospective tenant,
to the final scene when, as a broken woman resisting her family's
attempts to put her in a home, she realises and accepts that Vincent
has moved out of her sphere into one of his own, she does not
put one dramatic foot wrong.
The evening abounds in little details whereby she rounds up the
character into a sensible, yet sensitive, woman who cannot quite
reconcile her love for Vincent with her need to run a house and
In the scene where Vincent declares his love for her, she sits
immobile at the table, except for the occasional movement when
she, seemingly compulsively, tidies the things on the table in
front of her, highlighting the mental conflict she is undergoing.
This and myriad other moments during the course of the play lift
her performance out of the commonplace into the sublime, and places
her in the ranks of the great actresses of the British stage and
it is worth the trip to Richmond just to see it and marvel.
By this, I by no means belittle her supporting cast; far from
it, but they are, perforce, satellites revolving around her sun.
As Vincent, Ruben Brinkman manages the transition from brisk
young businessman into lover and then unstable, religious dominated
artist with conviction.
His Dutch accent, at times, made it difficult to understand the
lines he was saying, but his body language conveyed their meaning
It must be a difficult task to act in a language which is not
your own, but his Vincent was believable in all stages of his
He conveyed the mental intensity and turmoil of the frustrated
artist which ultimately, although not in the play, led to his
incarceration and death in an asylum with sensitivity and without
One was left, at the end of the play, with a sense of pity for
him, which was more due to his performance than the tragic figure
Sam Plowman, the other lodger with Mrs Loyer; the lover, and
subsequent husband, of her daughter, was sympathetically played
by Charlie Watts.
He is the counterweight to Vincent - a house decorator with a
desire to be an artist, but who is sensible enough to give up
his aspirations in that line in order to provide for his wife
Mr Watts gives him just the right touch of solidity, tempered
with understanding and humanity without losing credibility.
Vincent brings his sister, Anna, to join him as a lodger and
she manages to antagonise the other characters by her misunderstandings,
both of the language and their relationships.
Amy Darcy makes her an amusing foil to Emma Darwall-Smith's more
sober Eugenie, at the same time underlining the mental instability
which must have run in the Van Gogh family.
Eugenie is the one who is left at the end of the play to pick
up the pieces brought about by her mother's breakdown after Vincent
left her, at the same time as coping with her husband, Sam, and
She was also the helpmate of her mother in running an Infants'
school and the inheritor of her independent spirit. Emma Darwall-Smith,
like her character, copes admirably and makes Eugenie the calm
centre of the household throughout the play.
However excellent the supporting cast is, and excellent they
are, it is Clare Higgins' night and she makes it incandescent.
I wish I could spend more of them with Vincent in Brixton
provided, of course, she was there as well.
Vincent in Brixton, by Nicholas Wright; Director, Richard
Designer, Tim Hately; Lighting Designer, Peter Mumford; Sound
Designer, Neil Alexander; Music, Dominic Muldowney; Associate
Director, James Kerr. WITH: Clare Higgins, Ruben Brinkman, Emma
Darwall-Smith, Charlie Watts, Amy Darcy. Producer Howard Panter
for the Ambassador Group and Incidental Colman Tod present The
National Theatre Production at Richmond Theatre, The Little Green,
Richmond, Surrey. Box Office: 020 8940 0088