Play: Pieces of Vincent by David Watson

In ‘Broken Britain’, it will take more than political sound bites to put our society back together again. Just as in the 1980s, the arts in general and theatre in particular have better potential to stimulate thought and invite engagement from those who feel disengaged.

David Watson’s new play Pieces of Vincent underlines the emerging importance of The Arcola Theatre in East London as a venue to take on contemporary political issues. Unveiling the fractured lives not just of our eponymous hero but of nine characters in all, the play is certainly challenging. Vincent is in fact the most understated – in some ways least significant – among this random collection of individuals. Yet he is the catalyst. Says one of the characters: “We’re all together on being alone and that’s that.” And there’s a truth in the contradiction that’s central to the theme.

The interwoven stories of love, inadequacy and dysfunction are themselves recounted in a fractured way, so this is a challenging journey for the audience. On top of that, the production values are also challenging in their unconventionality. The audience is seated on the floor on cushions in the middle of a fusion of performance, film and art installation. The live action and filmed back projection take place in four encompassing sections: it’s a 360-degree experience with a considerable element of choice as to what parts of the experience you turn to gaze upon. It’s like an inverse theatre in the round with the audience not on the outside looking in but right in the middle of what’s happening.

This might sound intimidating, but it works. Pushing the traditional boundaries in this way turns out to be very involving. A conventional presentation of such tragic events might have allowed the audience to distance itself. Here, there’s no choice, and once you get used to the womb-like experience you are able to grow with the play. In consequence, you look beyond the bad things to find positives among the negatives.

Clare Lizzimore and her production team and Daniel Lang and his film team have transformed this play into visual pleasure. Especially effective is a gem of a film sequence of Vincent and his love Rachel exchanging farewells. It’s set on London’s Millennium Bridge which makes it moving in more ways than one: the symbolically precarious location is fragile and a little scary, nonetheless, a plank to be walked.

Life is never neat and tidy. What’s broken cannot be mended. Yet Pieces of Vincent reassures us of the resilience of the human condition. Vincent brings together people who may never otherwise have connected and how they cope with loss leaves us feeling hopeful rather than cheated. Above all, it’s a life-affirming journey.

Pieces of Vincent is at the Arcola Theatre, 27 Arcola Street, London E8 2DJ and runs until September 25th 2010. Tickets: 0207 503 1646 or


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