A TREAT FOR FANS
MRS VAN GOGH
By Geoff Allen
presented by Galatea Theatre
at Musgrove Studio, return season, Auckland
From 18 Apr 2012 to 28 Apr 2012
Reviewed by Phillip J Dexter, 28 Feb 2013
Vincent returns to Auckland with a re-staging of Galatea's Theatre's production of Mrs Van Gogh. Premiered in April 2012, this encore production is presented through the Auckland Fringe Festival and for hardened Van Gogh fans out there this could be a treat.
The play follows, in 90 short minutes, the period of Theo and his brother Vincent's life from Theo's marriage to Johanna Gesina Bonger through to both of their deaths as seen through the eyes of Johanna: Mrs Van Gogh.
Although living at times separate lives Theo, played by Michael Lowe, and Vincent, John Goudge, corresponded through some 700 odd letters. In the play Johanna, featuring Gina Timberlake, has taken it upon herself to translate this correspondence from Dutch to French to English although it is not made clear why she is so compelled to do so.
After the death of Vincent and her husband she is left the sole curator and admirer of the Van Gogh collection and single-handedly perseveres to ensure the works receive the attention they so deserve.
John Goudge gives a strong and confident portrayal of Vincent and is totally immersed in the character from his dyed orange hair to the bandaged bloodied ear. His costumes, by Cathie Sandy, are a little clichéd, copied from the self-portraits.
Gina Timberlake's Johanna is driven and full of emotion. Titling the play after this character is somewhat perplexing for although she is telling the storey her character is upstaged by that of the ever-present Vincent either centre stage or lurking in the shadows.
Michael Lowe's performance as Theo is excellent and the madness that infects him post Vincent's death transforms him with ferocity. Unfortunately, due to a lack of diction in places, his lines muddle the plot at times.
Writer and director Geoff Allen has crafted a piece based on a subject he is obviously passionate about, given this is the second play he has written on the subject; the first being Vincent and Theo performed in 1994. He uses a series of short scenes moving backwards and forwards in time to show the relationship between the three characters while tracking the progress of the paintings and letters after Vincent's death.
Having Theo and Vincent play ghosts in the scenes post their deaths adds another intriguing level to the storey but also having these two actors play various lodgers in the boarding house where Johanna now lives creates confusion.
Marko Nella's set is simple and effective with his beautiful recreations of Vincent's paintings slowly revealed throughout the duration of the play. Lighting by Beren Allen lacks depth while John Goudge's dark soundscape reinforces the emotion.
For the Van Gogh fans you will be in for a treat. If you're not it is still an entertaining evening and you may even learn a thing or two about one of the greatest painters of the last 200 years.
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Rosabel Tan (Theatre Scenes - Auckland Theatre Blog);
Paul Simei-Barton (New Zealand Herald);