Crash! Bang! Alakazam! For the Vincent in the gallery – and the one in your heart

SOMEBODY to love. Daniel Anderson in ‘Vincent’ at Theatre on the Square. Photograph by Harry Lock.

His was the story that changed the world’s understanding of the artist’s struggle. He yearned to, but failed to find love. He yearned to, but failed to make a conventional success of life. And at 37, died a pauper, alone. And then his work rocked the art world and auction houses as it broke records with unbridled abandon and six or seven digit prices. This was Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), and at Theatre on the Square until 10 June, you can experience his story.

Only, this musical revue is a lot more than the sad tale of Vincent’s life, moored, as it has become, in clichés of the highest order. It’s about severing an ear and shooting himself in the chest. It’s about lacking in confidence and taking years to find himself. It’s about a helter-skelter rush to make art in the last couple of years of life. It is about having a brother who holds on, regardless. And it is about being authentic to the spirit. Everything that’s embraced by Don McLean’s eponymous and well-known 1971 song, premised on Van Gogh’s 1889 painting The Starry Night.

But when you come to see this show, you will not be ladled with syrupy platitudes till you can’t breathe. Rather, you will be privileged to be in the presence something so unabashedly pure in its articulation, it feels like you are experiencing this tragic and well-worn tale of love unrequited and passion expressed with courage, for the very first time.

Meet Daniel Anderson. From his rendition of timeless classics by Nat King Cole, to smatterings of Jacques Brel and a dollop of Bread, the work syphons out the essence of well-loved standards to reflect on the life of Van Gogh in a way that skirts preciousness and holds on to the authentic. Anderson’s voice and stage presence evoke that of South African performer Yahto Kraft in its freedom to be, and that of American icon Danny Kaye in its sheer versatility. He’s young, lithe, focused and completely embodied by the story he has come to share with you. Anderson uses his whole body with guileless candour that will sweep you away.

He has the ability to take standards such as Della Reese’s ‘Don’t You Know’, which anyone can belt out in their bathtub, it’s so well known, and render it fresh and unsullied by popular perception.

But then, there is the pianist. Germaine Gamiet is as much a part of the undulating waves of beauty and truth that fill the stage, as Van Gogh is. His palette is enriched by everything from Queen ballads to Saint-Saëns snippets, with a bit of Debussy and Ravel and some riffs of his own to meld it all together.

The production, from the timeless vocal ‘There was a boy…’, grabs you by your breath. It meanders through van Gogh’s life and that of anyone else experiencing heart break and struggle, to reach its denouement, in which animation is allowed to meet the projection of one of Van Gogh’s best known pieces. Oddly, however, that moment is audio-visually less than you may anticipate and on some levels evokes the animation of Van Gogh’s life, directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman and screened widely, some years ago.

What holds the moment is Anderson’s ability to contain it all, and allow Van Gogh’s story to have a voice in your heart. One unsoiled by grubby truisms. It’s an extraordinary piece of work. And Anderson’s is a name to follow. Unequivocally.

  • Vincent is directed by Amanda Bothma. Written by Amanda Bothma, Jacques du Plessis and Germaine Gamiet, it features creative input by Gia Urbani (AV technical). It is performed by Daniel Anderson with Germaine Gamiet on piano and is at Theatre on the Square in Sandton until 10 June. Call 011 883-8606.

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