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Vincent in Brixton Review

How do you pronounce Van Gough’s name and what was he like as a young man?  These are the questions posed in‘Vincent in Brixton’,  currently performing at the Bob Hope Theatre, Eltham, until today 21st May. 

Written by Nicholas Wright, ‘Vincent in Brixton’ was first performed in 2002 and won the 2003 Olivier Award for Best New Play. There’s only a modest amount of documentation about Van Gough’s early years, so Wright uses letters Van Gough wrote to inspire the play which charts the story of a 19 year old Van Gough renting a room in Brixton whilst trying to be an art dealer in his family’s business. Van Gough’s unrequited love for his landlady’s daughter is documented, but Wight then supposes he transfers his affections to his landlady, Mrs Loyer. Love, sex, family and relationships are shown to have an impact on Van Gough, as we see him become more passionate about art. 

Van Gough is well acted from the naive and tactless, to a scathing man who we start to see possessed with genius but who hasn’t yet realised his full potential. Likewise, the frustration and despair of Mrs Loyer contrasts well to a woman full of hope to then despair again. The slow-burning love between the two protagonists is played both believably and sympathetically by the actors. 

They are well supported by three other cast members; from the comic relief of Van Gough’s irritating sister Serving as moral compass, to the down-to-Earth lodger who is the kind of bloke you’d see at a pub today, to the daughter whose strength runs the household.  Sheila Arden’s direction brings out the subtle nuances brilliantly. Costuming was well done from the aprons of the younger woman, to the costume change from black to colours for Mrs Loyer, speaking volumes about her re-engagement with life. 

A working bustling kitchen is the setting for all the action with careful attention paid to domestic tasks. The actors peeled potatoes, made gravy and a Sunday roast, and poured numerous cups of tea. The richness of the imagery is astounding particularly with the boots and chairs; which we can pinpoint to Van Gough’s later artwork. Throughout I was drawn to the flickering of the stove; particularly in the last scene where it and a lamp created warmth. Paired with an effective thunderstorm on stage (and a rainy real life day) it was a cozy atmosphere. 

There are some lulls and a lot of walking back and forth across the kitchen. The first scene uses too much exposition and while setting things up for future scenes doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch as other scenes do. It takes a while to get where it’s going and then once there it backs off suddenly.  There’s a comic moment when Van Gough is trying to teach others how to pronounce his name- think of ‘fun’ and ‘Loch’ he recommends.

Overall, the Bob Hope Theatre has done itself proud with this production and the actors deserve great praise. We would recommend seeing it. Hurry as tonight’s the last night it’s on at the Bob Hope Theatre. 

Vincent in Brixton is on from 18th to 21st May at 19:45. Tickets start at £12. 

Address: Bob Hope Theatre, Wythfield Road, Eltham London SE9 5TG


Telephone: 020 8850 3702 

Email: for box office or for general enquiries 

Facebook: Bob Hope Theatre Eltham 


Written by Caitlin Neal 

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