Every now and then, London theatre throws up something very different. Part art installation, part theatrical experiment, David Watson’s Pieces Of Vincent is receiving its world premiere at the Arcola Theatre. It uses a mixture of film, music and live acting to tell the story of nine characters whose lives are changed by a single tragic event. The seating is unusual; this is theatre in the round but the other way around: the audience is asked to sit on cushions in the middle while the play goes on around them using all four walls.
The scenes are not presented in chronological order but the first scene sets the tone for many elements of Vincent. An unseen Irishman reminisces about his son while driving along a country lane. Ahead of us, the wall is taken up by a film of the upcoming road through the eyes of the driver, behind us another film shows a following car while, on either side, countryside whizzes by. The feeling is of not just space but also time passing rapidly. The scene is innocent enough and has little relevance until much later.
This gives way to more traditional theatre as we are introduced sequentially to four pairs of characters, each exploring their relationship with eyes firmly set on the past but with glances over their shoulder to an uncertain future. Each scene is on a different side of the room and the scenes are broken up with a brief burst of static and a snatch of post-rockers’ múm as a filmed child cycles around the room.
Only in the final third are the implicit subtexts exposed. In a snowing Regent’s Park, a pregnant woman forces a pianist to confront his pederastic past. An old couple celebrate a grim anniversary and try to come to terms with their ancient loss through a tale of triumph and joy. With the 360-degree film technique used at the beginning, Watson plants us to great effect in the middle of the Millenium Bridge at midnight as a pair of ex-lovers say their reluctant goodbyes, not knowing that this will be their very last meeting. Dear James Cameron, thank you for Avatar but this is immersive 3D drama at its emotional best.
This is a hugely ambitious and heartfelt play which merges style and story effortlessly. It deserves full credit for its skilled ensemble cast, ambitious set design and poignant non-linear tale of the power of love to transcend time and death.
Pieces Of Vincent will be at the Arcola Theatre until September 25. Standard tickets are £16 (£10 concessions) but free for under-26s and on Tuesdays, its "pay what you can" (limited availability). To buy tickets or for more information, see here.
Also in East London, we saw The Alchemist at Hoxton Hall (on until Sept 10).
Until Sept 25, you can catch Oikos at the Jellyfish Theatre.