This isn’t a sponsored post.
BrumHour was invited to experience Van Gogh Alive by Birmingham Hippodrome.
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
Please note: this experience explores themes of mental health.
Van Gogh Alive: The Experience
At Birmingham Hippodrome
To me, Van Gogh is the finest painter of them all. Certainly the most popular great painter of all time. The most beloved. His command of colour, the most magnificent. He transformed the pain of his tormented life into ecstatic beauty. Pain is easy to portray but to use your passion and pain to portray the ecstasy and joy and magnificence of our world. No one had ever done it before. Perhaps no one ever will again. To my mind, that strange wild man who roamed the fields of Provence was not only the world’s greatest artist but also one of the greatest men who ever lived.”Vincent and the Doctor, Doctor Who (Episode written by Richard Curtis)
When Bill Nighy rhapsodised about the Dutch artist in the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor, a whole new generation of Van Gogh fans were born. It started my own love affair with Van Gogh, and even more impressively, art – something I’d never particularly dwelled on before. The wedge of art books now in my bookcase tells a completely different story. As Van Gogh (played by Tony Curran) roams the gallery filled with his once-neglected art and sees he has finally found an audience and adoration, we fell in love with an artist who lived and died over a hundred years ago.
More than any other artist, Van Gogh is spoken of with a reverence, awe, and love that never seems to fade. That’s why, in the middle of a global pandemic when the arts have been massacred, Birmingham Hippodrome opened after months of darkness fully transformed: the theatre now a multi-sensory experience devoted to one of the most popular artists of all time. Van Gogh Alive was born in Australia, but its unique use of Sensory4 – a system of multichannel motion graphics, cinema-quality surround sound, and up to forty high-definition projectors has propelled the experience around the globe to more than fifty cities and six million visitors. The scale of it is staggering.
The beauty of this experience is the level of immersion that you are given into Van Gogh’s world. Only a fraction of us will have seen his paintings in museums, and irritatingly, some of them are in private hands, so this experience is truly a one-of-a-kind chance to see his art (over 3000 images) in real life. With an art gallery, even if you are privileged enough to see one of his great masterpieces, you are an observer looking in, probably looking from a distance and for a limited time. With Van Gogh Alive, the proportions are inverse: the paintings are projected on a massive scale all around you.
You are not just watching his art, but living it. One of Vincent’s calling cards is his completely unique use of colour, so when the auditorium is flooded with light, you physically feel the mood of his paintings in your body.
The experience is chronological, so you can palpably feel the change from the dim, earth-rich colours of his early years in the Netherlands, to the bright riot of yellow that Vincent loved so much in his sunflowers, right the way through to the writhing ecstasy of blues and golds that became his night skies when he was in and out of the asylum in Saint-Rémy.
Each movement of art is a different torrent of emotions, aided by the beautiful use of extracts from Van Gogh’s letters and a classical soundtrack: Vivaldi’s frenetic Tormenta or Storm, from The Four Seasons whirling you into the chaos and disorder of his life as the experience starts, while Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1 accompanies Van Gogh’s earlier floral work and submerges you in a state of utter peace. It stuns you.
More than anything else, Van Gogh Alive is a living, breathing biography. Each screen resembles a book, with the movements acting as chapters of his life that you physically live through yourself. The story pivots around what is always seen as the tragedy of Van Gogh’s life, of his struggle with mental illness. While we can feel a distance from the word asylum, many of us as viewers can relate to the overwhelming feeling of depression.
Understanding Van Gogh’s journey brings with it revelations: the surreal scale of the furniture in Bedroom in Arles brings pangs of loss and grief when you realise he was painting his old room from memory in the asylum, and you can physically feel his claustrophobia. The beauty of this experience is being able to step into the paintings and world of a man so many of us feel love for, and to connect his experience of misery with our own through the beautiful ecstasy of his art.
Van Gogh Alive is created by Grande Experiences and presented at Birmingham Hippodrome in the main auditorium with things to do across three levels of the building from 25th May to 11th July. Book tickets which start at £20 for adults here: birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/van-gogh-alive-the-experience don’t forget to visit the Van Gogh Alive gift shop and Sunflower Room as you exit.
The venue has full Covid-19 strategies in place, from maximum group sizes to hand sanitiser throughout the experience.