“I remember a time when opinion and imagination were on nodding terms”
Pieces of Vincent is a new play from David Watson receiving its world premiere at Dalston’s Arcola Theatre. Vincent is a young man adrift in the world, looking for an ex-girlfriend and solace in London, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and his life changes forever. The play takes us through how this affects a large cast of characters, from County Down to Birmingham to various parts of London, as we slowly see the impact he had and get closer to the truth of what has happened.
Es Devlin’s innovative approach to the design of this show has resulted in an unusual seating arrangement. The audience sit on cushions the floor in the middle of the theatre and the action takes place all around us, as film images are played, often in a highly effective 360° manner. Three of the sides have sets behind the gauzy screens and one has a blank wall onto to which a range of locations are effectively projected.
This has varying degrees of success: the film sequences, with its opening scene where we’re travelling with a character in a car and a later scene on London’s Millenium Bridge are just brilliant. There’s a real sense of immersion, being right in the moment and with the special effects in the latter scene, creating a highly moving experience. Elsewhere, the other scenes which are more traditionally played are strongly acted and the unique staging allows for the shifts in location to be clearly articulated.
The play itself is engaging and has its moments, but it also has its challenges: it is not an easy watch. With its fractured narrative as we look at each of the ‘pieces’, it tests us but at times it was a little too dense. Each scene is introduced with a month and a place, and whilst it was clear where we were most of the time, I soon lost track of when we were and when the previous scenes had been set. The sense of time is just not clearly articulated enough for most of the play. And whilst the emotional climax and the scenes that precede it provide an element of clarity and resolution, some of the connections remained unclear: I think I need more time and to read the playtext to make all the pieces fit.
It is mostly superbly acted: Sian Clifford continues her strong work at this theatre with a strong emotional performance, Robin Soans brings a deep sadness to his work and I enjoyed Adam Best as the titular Vincent: the wonderful Dearbhla Molloy is criminally underused though.
So an interesting experience under Clare Lizzimore’s direction and a thought-provoking play which is strikingly more intelligent and complex than much of what is on offer in the West End. It is physically demanding though, 90 minutes sat on the floor and constantly having to shift around becomes somewhat of a trial by the end: if you wish to see the show but have concerns, contact the Arcola as arrangements can be made.