Vincent in Brixton - by Nicholas Wright  
10th, 11th, 12th June 2010

 Click here for more pictures of this play

Cast        Production Team
Ursula Loyer Cathy Naylor   Director Babs Oakley
Vincent Van Gogh Dan Cooper   Personal Assistant Christine Whatson
Eugenie Loyer Frances Dennis   Production Assistant Iain Howland
Sam Plowman Jon Gilbert   Stage Manager Lisa Maule & David Stelfox
Anna Van Gogh Lucy Parkin   Properties Howard Platt & Roz Gerrie
      Continuity Christie Drew
      Costume Christine Eckley
      Set Design & Construction Stephen Radley
      Lighting Design Terry Tew
      Sound Design Anne Satchwell
      Sound/Lighting Operation Jean Cooper
      Programme Design Howard Platt
      Production Photos Howard Platt

Click here for the NODA crit for this play

Review by Jessica Bostock

The Front of House staff were, as always, efficient and smiley and presented a positive and friendly first impression.  It was really good to see a pretty much full house and proves that people still need escapism in these solemn times.

I was not familiar with the play, but thoroughly enjoyed it.  Since most of the piece was basically two-handed and quite wordy it would have been easy for the audience to lose focus or interest if the dialogue had not been so well handled.  The direction showed the characters and the play to their best advantage, and every vestige of humour was realised and executed well.

I liked the set as not only did it look good, but seemed comfortable for the cast to use and they looked natural in it; the use of the black line around the top of the flats always finishes off the set nicely, too.  The working range and sink were highly impressive and the items on show were all in keeping with the style and era of the play.  I was pleased that the set wasn’t dingy, but as a real nit-pick would have like more ‘stuff’ to clutter up the mantelpiece etc. – apologies if this was a conscious decision, but I just wanted more.  The props were good and well handled.  To open the play with so much business must have been daunting, but the preparation of the meal was truly impressive, well choreographed and smelt fab!!  I also speak from experience when I say that I doubt it lasted more than a matter of minutes after it left the stage – I’ve always found the Green Room and the Willingale Room a home to ravening hordes once the initial stage-fright has worn off!!

The lighting was good and bright throughout – my only criticism being the rather abrupt fade to evening and the lack of lightning during such a raging storm.  I would also suggest Terry gets a longer storm track as it was distracting to have the storm stop and start.  The wall lights in Act ii were a lovely touch.

Costumes, hair and make-up were good throughout.  The women all achieved the ‘not wearing a vestige of make-up’ look very well, moved confidently in their costumes and handled props, hairstyles and clothes with ease; even the rather unwieldy pram!

I will approach the characters in the order in which they took their bows!

Lucy.  I really sympathised with you since your character did not appear until after the interval, as while everyone is relaxing into their performance you have yet to leap the first hurdle, so to speak.  I thought you were charming!  Your delivery was good and clear and I heard every word; your accent was completely believable and the energy you gave the part was excellent.  You handled the misbehaving teacup with a most realistic ‘oops!’ and the mop and bucket with considerable aplomb.  The only thing I found difficult to accept was that in such a short space of time you had managed to so completely upset and undermine a whole household – artistic licence, I suppose!

Jon.  Sam was a really nice bloke!  From your first cheery entrance to the final scene of helpful acceptance of your family’s lot, you remained a thoroughly decent individual.  You spoke clearly and every delivery was clear and believable.  You handled your comic timing well and extracted some good laughs from the audience with your considered pronouncements.  You handled your props well and looked at home on the set.  I did feel sorry for you in that jacket, but have personal experience of the limitations in being a larger person in a smaller person’s wardrobe!!  I have made a note that your reaction to being bossed out of the room (in Act iv I think) was a nice touch, but can’t remember the reaction itself! – Ah the perils of shorthand - and Alzheimer’s! 

Frances.   Of all the characters I sometimes found you more difficult to hear than the others and found that the languidness with which you moved, although in nice contrast to the other characters, sometimes made you slow to pick up on cues and make your entrances on time.  It’s a tiny point, but being aware of how long it is going to take you to arrive in a scene prevents leaving your fellow actors stranded waiting for your line – and, believe me, a few seconds of unscheduled silence feels and looks like an age!  Also the relaxed way you moved didn’t work with some of the anger your character had to display – it’s important to convey the emotions you speak so convincingly through to the speed and pitch of your actions.  You played the resentment towards Anna, however, clearly and well.  The fab change of hair and costume led to an impressive change of mood and character in Act iv where you had matured into a believably concerned and worried daughter with worries of her own and a protective bitterness for your mother towards Vincent.  You handled the pram very well and your movements were much more decisive and your speech clear and well modulated, so it may have been initial nerves which bogged you down a bit before.

Cathy.  You and Vincent had the most complex characters to portray and you were both most believable.  You burst onto the stage to open the play with vigour and energy and not only set the tone of the play, but also the pace – no mean feat in an intensely wordy piece.  The pace chosen was excellent and remained so, even in your more reflective moments.  I was pleased that you didn’t rush any pauses you had, and really seemed to contemplate your memories and feelings with realism.  You spoke clearly and kept up an early briskness which contrasted well with your later softness.  Your hair, make-up and costumes were excellent throughout and you moved well in them, handling props with easy confidence.  I liked the change of mood which came with the change of costume and was pleased to see a smile.  Ursula had an excellent rapport with Vincent in Act ii which led easily to a believable kiss which you handled well despite the ‘oohs!’ and ‘aaahs!’ from the audience!!  You managed to keep the pace up without gabbling anything and being able to take time when necessary.  A different feeling from you again in Act iv where your disappointment was obvious and sad to see.  The lightening of your mood at the end as Vincent started to draw and the intensity with which you watched the sketch progress were palpable and exciting; we cared with you!  A thoroughly convincing performance, portraying a woman who finds life and love again, along with the joys and despairs these bring, I felt invested in her and sympathised with her completely.  Well done!

Dan.  What can I say? an excellent performance.  Your first entrance was energetic and pleasing; you were immediately likeable and remained that way throughout.  You were charming, naive and honest which was disarming and easy to enjoy.  A gift of a part you played him with real enthusiasm and style.  You managed the humour well and wrung every possible snigger from the audience with seeming ease.  Your accent was very good and you maintained it well throughout the play, we didn’t once lose your words in either your accent or enthusiasm; you handled props well even the pipe and the fountain of matches! And your timing was excellent throughout.  The rapport between Vincent and Ursula was obvious and you played extremely well together (see Cathy’s piece for comments on the kiss!).  I was impressed with the inference of the mania which was so pronounced in his later life; his slightly erratic manner, the energy at one moment to his despair the next, all well portrayed and believable.   I loved that you were really wet when you came on in Act iv and that your mood had blackened without your performance losing pace.  A performance of which to be justly proud; as with Ursula I not only liked Vincent, but cared about him, too – I wish I didn’t know that his ending wasn’t the happy one I would like!

I presume the ending is in the script, but it was a really nice touch which worked extremely well and was well complimented by the programme! – yes, all those details are worth the effort!!  I wasn’t sure whether the ending was a freeze or not for Eugenie and Sam, if not, Sam needed to interact with Eugenie as the poor girl was rather left caught between two stools! 

Babs, I have to congratulate you on directing such an enjoyable piece with such a light touch.  You made the whole piece cohesive, humorous, well performed, well-dressed, believable and thoroughly enjoyable.  I commend you for keeping the pace rattling along without losing the contemplative moments or the softness where it was needed.  I really enjoyed my evening and am flattered that you asked me to provide a crit for this charming play.  There is not enough charm around nowadays, it was lovely to experience so much last week without mawkishness or sentimentality.  Thank you.