Theatre Review: Vincent – A Poignant Portrait, Or Worth Lending An Ear To

June 1, 2023




Vincent / Directed by Amanda Bothma / Theatre On The Square, Sandton, Johannesburg


Subtitled His Quest To Love And Be Loved, Vincent takes on an established theme – an examination of the life of influential but troubled painter Vincent Van Gogh – and gives it a simple but nuanced (and superbly executed) new treatment.

Projections against a number of screens showcase Van Gogh’s work, helping to support the brisk, thoughtfully summarised narration of his life story by singer Daniel Anderson. Other than that, the only props are a chair and table at which Van Gogh (also Anderson – he changes posture and accent to personify the artist) pens letters to his ever-supportive brother Theo and a print of the The Portrait Of Doctor Gachet, a painting that sold for $75 million on auction on 1990.

Within this simple tableau, Anderson weaves a special kind of magic, ably assisted by Germaine Gamiet, a sensitive, responsive accompanist. Many cabaret or revue shows make only the most rudimentary efforts at creating cohesiveness and continuity, but this effort shows off the form’s most appealing and accessible strong points. The story is enthralling and occasionally galling – Van Gogh was a man of wildly divergent moods and tastes – and the choice of songs to help illustrate the emotional range the artist likely felt during periods of his career or milestones in his personal life or emotional or artistic development is at first intriguing and ultimately inspired.

The success of each composition’s placement relies on Anderson’s performance of the songs individually and as a collection, and by the third number – Brel’s Madeleine (by which time the singer has already taken on and done justice to Nat King Cole and Freddie Mercury) it becomes clear that here is an extraordinary talent, an opinion soon confirmed and bolstered by consecutive singing performances that have members of the audience helplessly mumbling, “Wow!” as pretty much every song draws to a close and applause swells. There is more Cole and more Brel. There is a trio of works by Sondheim – Losing My Mind relatively uncomplicated by the composer’s standards; I’m Calm and Being Alive decidedly less so. Bread rubs musical shoulders with 4 Non-Blondes and Gamiet links scenes and lifts or subdues mood and pace with passages of work by Debussy, Pucinni and Ravel. And it’s no spoiler to say that that song by Don McLean makes an appearance.

What astonishes is Anderson’s extreme familiarity and comfort, at the age of 22, with such a breadth of musical styles and contexts. He inhabits the personae who deliver the lyrics and his own evident training enhances what is clearly a standout talent as a vocalist.

Even with sound design and lighting that is less than the equal (occasionally to distracting effect) of its protagonist’s efforts, Vincent is a show that hits all its marks, and while a standing ovation is no longer necessarily a clear indicator of excellence in contemporary theatre, the sustained applause – a good few minutes without pause – that accompanied it was the minimum reward deserved by Anderson’s accomplishment.

As a relatively small show in technical and set-up terms, Vincent may be able to tour to a range of cities and venues. If it arrives in your area, see it.