Review: Daniel Anderson captivates in Vincent, The Cabaret, which won a Standard Bank Ovation Award on the Fringe, at 2022 National Arts Festival in Makhanda

Vincent – the Cabaret
Performers: Daniel Anderson (vocals) and Germaine Gamiet (piano)
Writer/director: Amanda Bothma
Musical direction: Jacques Du Plessis, Germaine Gamiet and Amanda Bothma
Producer: Wêla Kapela Productions

Vincent -the Cabaret, is a tender and moving cabaret/tribute, providing insights into Vincent van Gogh’s struggles – personal and creative. I saw the show at the National Arts Festival 2022, Makhanda, in the Beethoven Room, Rhodes Music Department. It was June 26. Three days earlier, June 23 and the mask and 50% seating mandate had been lifted in South Africa. The venue was packed and charged by excitement and anticipation: We were communing at a live performance. The show was a wow. People sat there, afterwards, in a kind of trance-like state. Vincent is entertainment with soul, with a rousing playlist which includes gritty Jacques Brel songs (such as the frenzied Carousel- La Valse à Mille Temps-and Madelaine). Vincent’s longing to be loved is achingly conveyed by Queen’s Somebody To Love. Anderson presents an emotionally charged performance. He is accompanied at the piano by Germaine Gamiet. The narration and song, is set against a projection of paintings by Vincent, which makes this an immersive theatre experience.  One feels as if one is in Vincent’s paintings. The show won a Bronze Standard Bank Ovation Award. The awards recognise shows of excellence on The Fringe. Post NAF. Vincent has been on tour in South Africa. Catch it in KZN at the Hilton Arts Festival, at The Baxter for Cabaret Fest and in Johannesburg at Theatre In The Park [September 2022].

Vincent was written and directed by Amanda Bothma of Wêla Kapela Productions, in East London.  Bothma’s eclectic song list and script brings Vincent to life, with the young Daniel Anderson [he is 22- as I write- September 2022], bringing a millennial energy and angst into evoking the legend of Vincent for contemporary audiences. Yes, Don Maclean’s hit homage song, Vincent (part of his American Pie album, 1971) is in the show. However, the romanticism of the Maclean song is offset by the Brel, Queen and other songs (including Sondheim) and impressionist riffs from Debussy and Pavane.

Vincent wanted to be loved and he wanted to love. He was obsessive in his quest to reach artistic and personal highs but it was not an easy journey as he tussled with mental health, unrequited love and career stumbling blocks. He kept going – with his gaze on his art and the hope that one day he would be loved, unconditionally. This is beautifully evoked in Vincent – the Cabaret. Anderson rendition of Brel’s Carousel- is magic: “And the whole world madly turning. Turning, turning ’till you can’t see…” A carousel goes round and round and that also conjures up Vincent’s dogged determination to make his art and not pander to the opinions of others.   I think, Vincent would have found that cool- Carousel- as an antidote to Maclean’s dreamy American Pie version. The playlist (especially the Brel and Queen) imbues this cabaret with tension and elevates it beyond merely being a ‘tribute’ show. The live accompaniment, with carefully considered musical arrangements, heightens the vocals and narrative links.

When I saw Vincent at NAF, stage 6 load shedding (electricity outages) was in full force in South Africa and I was unable to log in to TheCapeRobyn website to post a review, although I raved on social media. With the show’s Heritage Month tour in South Africa [September 2022], I have taken the opportunity to put up this review: Vincent is a must-see.

In the lead up to the roll-out of Vincent in Heritage Month 2022, I chatted to Daniel Anderson about the rapturous reception at NAF and its journey after the fest:

How did you get involved with Vincent?

Daniel Anderson: “Amanda [Bothma] and I were working on another Cabaret, Mad About The Boys, last year [2021] and we were enjoying the creation process so much that we already began talking about the ‘what next’ while that show was touring. I have always been intrigued by Vincent as a character and so I suggested that we look at the life of Van Gogh and Amanda was sold on the idea from the first conversation. The gear change between the two shows was larger than any of us could have imagined and that is what made working on it so beautiful. We also loved the idea of fusing a non-musical figure into a musical show.”

Did Vincent premiere at NAF or had it been staged before the festival?

Daniel Anderson: The show premiered at the Umtiza Arts Festival at the Guild Theatre in East London, May of this year [2022]. That was the start of an incredible journey. With Amanda, shows are always in the process of becoming. The product that went up at NAF was different to the Umtiza product, but the integrity of the work always maintains its core: To simply tell it as it is and to be honest about who this incredible man was and is.”

You must have been thrilled to get an Ovation Award. After NAF, where did the show go?

Daniel Anderson: “We feel really honoured to be recognised with an Ovation Award – especially considering the high standard of shows that went up at NAF this year. After NAF, Wêla Kapela Productions went head first into another show, Once On This Island, in which I played the role of Daniel Beuxhomme – so Vincent continued with rehearsals here and there for a few months and then went up on the mountain of Hogsback, Eastern Cape in a really cool immersive dinner experience: A three course served before the show, designed with food that was eaten and popular in Vincent’s time and place. The show is off on a little 2022 tour of sorts now as it plays in Johannesburg (Theatre in The Park) on  September 17 and then at the Hilton Arts Festival on September 24 and 25 and then finishes up in Cape Town on September 27 and 28 at the Baxter – part of Wêla Kapela Productions CabaretFest. “

Did you work with Amanda Bothma to put Vincent together?

Daniel Anderson: “Wêla Kapela is a really collaborative place to work and so the process is always really one where we bounce ideas off of each other and expand from there. Amanda wrote the script and directed the show in terms of how to bring across the life of this character in a way that is fresh and sophisticated. I’ve worked with Amanda for many years (more than half my life) and so we trust one another. It is really special. We stay on the same page always. The song choice and placement is a truly back and forth process between myself, Amanda and our two musical directors [Jacques Du Plessis and Germaine Gamiet]. I am blessed with the best in the business on this show and to know that we all have input makes me feel that the product is really solid.”

You came across very empathically, very emotional. It is shocking to think how little recognition Vincent had in his lifetime and how he battled emotionally. How did you go about researching him- and going beyond that image of his torn off ear- and conjure up a sense of the person? 

Daniel Anderson: “The research process began with reading the book, Lust for Life, a fictional biography of Van Gogh’s life. It focuses on his movement through Europe and the relationship with his brother, Theo. The book draws on the many letters that he wrote to Theo, which were preserved by Theo’s widow, Jo. The letters are all over Google, translated to English. The show drew from this book and the letters , but focuses on the unrequited love he experienced time and time again. From there I spent a lot of time thinking about Vincent in the context of my own life and artistic self. I am young, but we artists feel very deeply. It became clear to me that there is a Vincent in every person: we all have our obsessions and we are the main characters in our life stories: this makes us right and the world wrong, according to us. This exercise made Vincent very real to me and this connected him to me very deeply. I came to know Vincent in this way. What I love about Vincent, is that while he battled emotionally and with mental health, he understood something very well: Emotions must be felt. He felt them and he immortalised them through his work – even when others told him it was all wrong. I am so inspired by this honesty.”

Starry starry night: Daniel Anderson, in Vincent, The Cabaret, on The Fringe at National Arts Festival 2022, in the Beethoven Room, Rhodes Music Department, Somerset Street. This photo was taken at the performance on June 26, which was sold out. The production received a Bronze Standard Bank Ovation Award (awarded to shows of excellence on The Fringe).
Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

 Immersive theatre: Daniel Anderson, in Vincent, The Cabaret, on The Fringe at National Arts Festival 2022.
Pic: © TheCapeRobyn/Robyn Cohen.

✳ Featured image- Daniel Anderson- supplied.