Superb portrait of a troubled soul

Daniel Anderson, accompanied by Germaine Gamiet, in the excellent Vincent – His Quest to Love and Be Loved. Picture by Billy Suter.

Stage: Vincent – His Quest to Love and Be Loved – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban
Final performances at 7.30pm today (Saturday, April 15) and 2pm and 6pm tomorrow (Sunday, April 16)

“A GREAT fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke” … this is a quote credited to Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh in this cleverly conceived, one-act production about this genius whose talent came to be fully appreciated only after his suicide at the age of 37.

Truly a production that no discerning theatregoer should miss, Vincent embroiders on that quote to go beyond the posthumous fame associated with the artist and his wonderful works. Instead, the focus is on the man’s complexity and deep passion; his troubled life and aching need to love and be loved; his ongoing battles with poverty, ill health and deep depression.

And if this sounds like it could be a depressing show, a dreary history lecture, think again. Widely acclaimed by critics, the winner of a Standard Bank Ovation Award at last year’s SA Arts Festival and a recent nominee for a Fleur du Cap award, Vincent is a fresh, truly captivating artistic achievement. It is deserved of all the accolades.

The show, which received a long standing ovation at its Durban opening last night, is superbly written and directed by Amanda Bothma of East London’s hard-working Wela Kapela theatre company. It is a visual and auditory delight that tells Van Gogh’s story in surprising and most effective ways.

Throughout the performance, images of Van Gogh’s mostly colourful, bold and expressive works are beamed on to two raised screens flanking the stage and also, even more impressively, magnified (and sometimes even animated) on white fabric that fully lines the stage walls.

BILLY SUTER reviews "Vincent - His Quest to Love and Be Loved", one of the best shows you will see this year, at Durban's Rhumbelow Theatre only until Sunday.
Daniel Anderson in Vincent – His Quest to Love and Be Loved. Picture by Harry Lock.

Additionally, the Rhumbelow stage has been extended to accommodate the two performers, both of whom were last on this stage in the recent Mad About the Boys – star-on-the-rise, 23-year-old singer-actor Daniel Anderson and ab fab musical director and pianist Germaine Gamiet.

Big highlights are the unexpected songs that punctuate Anderson’s deft storytelling – a diverse mix of pop, rock, jazz and show tunes that have been very carefully selected and masterfully rearranged to match the mood of the moment, to comment on or move forward the unfolding story.

Expect the likes of Queen’s Somebody to Love and Stephen Sondheim’s Being Alive from Company and Losing My Mind from Follies. We also get fine renditions of Brel’s crazy Carousel and Madeleine; and, a highlight for me, a slow and stirring version of the 4 Non Blondes rock treat, What’s Going On? Also here, of course, is Don McLean’s poetic ballad, Vincent, but one never knows what will crop up next and it is truly exciting.

Anderson is dynamic throughout, always expressive and in good voice. He delivers a passionate and moving performance with flashes of humour and merriment, as he charts Van Gogh’s doomed relationships with various women, his religious involvements, his solitude and delusions, and his blossoming of artistic style from dark to bright and dramatic.

By the end of the show we know a lot more about Vincent than that he sliced off part of his ear, which was then presented to a prostitute he admired. We discover much about the troubled painter’s story, his fears and frustrations, through his constant letter writing to his younger brother, Theo, who supported him financially and held Vincent’s hand as he died.

Anderson continually yo-yos between being a narrator and adopting a deeper, slower vocal style to deliver Van Gogh’s dialogue, invariably speaking as Vincent while seated at a writing desk, flanked by pianist Germaine to his right and a portrait on an easel to his left. The portrait depicts Van Gogh’s The Portrait of Doctor Gachet which sold at auction for $75million in 1990.

Vincent is one of the best shows you will see this year. Don’t miss it! Tickets cost R200 each at Computicket or via

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