Seven months, more or less to the day, I had tickets booked to see the Atelier Des Lumières Monet exhibition in Paris. Well, you know how this one ends … the world closed down, flights were cancelled, hotels shut their doors and I never got to see it.
After everything that has happened since, and as an industry that has been decimated in 2020, it was hard to see how theatres could come through the Coronavirus pandemic in one piece; how would they be able to operate safely and, let’s face it, be financially viable, in the foreseeable future?
Rather ingeniously, The Birmingham Hippodrome has found a Covid-safe way to open once again with the launch of Van Gogh Alive. The first theatre production in the city since mid-March, this walk-around exhibition features giant projections and computer-animated images of Vincent Van Gogh’s workthat transform every surface, from the walls to the floor.
The Grande Exhibitions show – which has already toured 50 cities across the globe and welcomed more than six million visitors – takes you on a journey of Van Gogh’s life, through the Netherlands, Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise, where the post-impressionist created his most famous masterpieces.
Set to evocative classical score and with more 3,000 images on 30 IMAX screens, the 45-minute exploration opens with giant self portraits before showcasing his enormous catalogue of work, revealing his intricate use of colour and offering an insight into what inspired him. Many pieces have been deconstructed to create animations – there’s crows flying across wheat fields, trains chugging through the countryside, petals falling from blossoming almond trees, a swirling sky in the iconic Starry Night and close-ups of his brushstrokes from his most famous work, Sunflowers.
For those who have queued for hours to catch a quick glimpse of a static, gilt-framed Van Gogh painting hanging in a museum, this is the perfect way to really see his work come to life. It’s not rushed; rather it allows the audience to walk around freely, interact with his work like never before, and engage with art in a new and accessible way.
Possibly it’s the way forward; a way of creating a safe space for audiences to move around socially distanced, and without taking away the joy of what theatres do best. As Fiona Allan, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of The Birmingham Hippodrome, explains:
“We pride ourselves on bringing high quality and compelling cultural experiences to the people of the West Midlands, making things accessible and that the whole family can experience. We can operate this exhibition safely during this time of social distancing.”
OK, I never got to see Monet come to life in Paris but at least I got to see Van Gogh come to life right on my doorstep.
Van Gogh live runs until 11 July 2021, for tickets CLICK HERE