24th Nov, 2020

Multi-sensory Van Gogh Alive exhibition at Birmingham Hippodrome offers unique and spellbinding experience

Catherine Thompson 8th Oct, 2020 Updated: 8th Oct, 2020

THE TIMING of the Van Gogh Alive UK premiere at Birmingham Hippodrome could perhaps not be more poignant.

The sensory experience, projecting more than 3,000 spellbinding images across a multi-screened auditorium space, is the first major offering from the theatre since the world – and not least the arts scene – was cast into a strange and sterile hiatus.

While convenient for social-distancing, the vast, barren space, once brimming with crowds in what seems like an age ago, highlighted the eerie reality of covid’s impact.

But it was not long before the space was swept up in a forgotten reality of art, nature and poetry, captured in the sumptuous, melancholic and often striking scenes, allowing viewers a novel close-up of the post impressionist’s greatest works.

Smaller screens showing snippets of Vincent’s thoughts and experiences, from letters penned by him to his brother Theo, offered an insight into the emotions translated to dynamic brushstrokes, swirling patterns, and dramatic colour schemes.

The multitude of displays, cast from the walls and even the floor, mirrored the artist’s physical and emotional journey; from the sympathetic scenes of labourers in the Netherlands, to vibrant landscapes in France, to the frantic brushwork as he worked from his room in Saint-Paul Asylum.

A personal highlight was the appearance of his Starry Night masterpiece, as whorls of the deep blue and yellow cosmos enveloped the audience in a dreamy reverie, thanks to a touch of CGI magic.

The accompanying classical music has been carefully selected to tell his story, each piece complementing a chapter of his vivid journey, right to its premature end – where the beautifully febrile energy, of what is thought to be his last painting, is brought to life with sound effects and movement.

A perhaps more gentle touch is the 3D mock up of Vincent’s bedroom in Arles, on the exit from the auditorium, followed by an immersive sunflower room – a takeaway of the small joys which touched the painter’s life.

Although his tale is fraught with misery, the mesmerising sights of golden wheat fields, blushing fruits and churning skies, are a timely reminder of nature’s beauty at our fingertips.

And hopefully it is not too bold to suggest, that this novel exhibition might signal the rekindling a much-missed lifeline for many.

The exhibition is running until December 31. A one-way social-distance system is in place and masks are required at all times.

Visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com to book tickets from £15.

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