Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright

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Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright. Dir. Gaynor MacFarlane. Perf. Monica Dolan, Finn den Hertog, Melody Grove. BBC Radio 4, 23 May 2015. BBCiPlayer

Nicholas Wright's award-winning play offers us a portrait of the young Vincent van Gogh (Finn den Hertog) as a ruthless go-getter, who knows he is sublimely talented and uses that power to obtain what he wants, especially where women are concerned.

He lodges with Ursula (Maggie Dolan), a widowed teacher, and her daughter Eugenie (Melody Grove); and falls in love with both of them.  Yet we remain sceptical as to the true nature of his love; maybe he is just using them so as to secure favors, as well as the right to stay in Britain. 

On the other hand Vincent manages to penetrate beneath the surface of English emotional respectability to discover the guilty secrets lurking beneath; the true feelings of Eugenie, her relationship to painter-cum-decorator Sam (Justin Salinger), and her view of what public life should be.  Even when Vincent's sister Anna (Maggie Service) comes to Britain, ostensibly to take Vincent away to Paris on his father's wishes, Vincent's power within the household remains undiminished.

As portrayed by den Hertog, Vincent is both na´ve and tactless yet arrogant, often taking his English hosts for granted.  If self-centeredness is the wellspring of artistic genius, he possesses it in shards.  He welcomes the life of domesticity, willingly peeling the potatoes and digging the garden; but maintains a withering disdain towards Sam. 

The play offers a vivid portrait of an artist as a young man who hitherto had done nothing to confirm his status; this is probably why he ends up venting his frustrations on those willing enough to offer him shelter.