By Cassie Tongue
Vincent Ergo, 107 Projects
107 Projects in Redfern is open to theatregoers in Vincent Ergo, a new immersive work about the life and struggles of painter Vincent Van Gogh. Beginning in the bar, transformed into the night cafe Van Gogh painted, we follow actors from space to space, into offices and up and down stairs, the story as part of our bodies as we follow Van Gogh (Harry Taylor) towards his inevitable death.
The piece is ably constructed (designer Irma Calabrese makes locations pop) but its choice to simply present Van Gogh’s life rather than examine it feels like a missed opportunity, especially in the immersive format.
If we could have followed a version of the story told at least in part from the point of view of the women he stalked and harassed, determined to “save” them from sex work or other sins, the women could have been gifted a real voice and real agency.
Instead, they are largely represented by a character named Rachel Berlatier (Natasha MacDonald), an amalgam of popular myth and truth concerning the identity of the woman who received Van Gogh’s severed ear in a package. She spends a lot of time suffering.
It’s also unclear if the production is aiming for camp – at one point, Rachel wears a skirt that depicts Van Gogh’s Starry Night – or more emotional nuance, but after you settle into the piece, it’s easy to let it wash over you. There are plenty of “Easter eggs” for art fans, and it’s a little rush to be dropped into a new world and feel as though you are part of it.
It takes an impressive amount of ambition to assemble and execute a site-specific immersive work. First-time creators/directors Nita Wolf and Philip Wolf have taken on the challenge with gusto, though it’s not always successful.
The “choose your own adventure” aspect of the piece doesn’t seem to work in actuality (there seems only one clear path to follow at any given time, and to choose differently requires an audience member to make decision observed by all, which won’t work for every patron – this is a piece perhaps more suited to large, pre-COVID audience numbers), but the element of uncertain surprise works in the piece’s favour.
It helps push shaky scenes over the line because we are embodying the experience in a group. We move together, we exchange glances, we take cues from each other. It’s a temporary community.
This review is supported by the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund and the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.