Van Gogh Alive is a sensory immersive experience, showcasing the works of Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890). Hosted at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 31st December, find out more and book your tickets here.
The last theatre I visited before the COVID-19 curtain call in March was the Birmingham Hippodrome. So it was only fitting that this was the first theatre I returned to. Instead of facing the stage however this time I was on it. Immersed in the work of Vincent Van Gogh, projected onto massive suspended screens.
Originating in Australia, the Birmingham Hippodrome is the first UK home of Van Gogh Alive. The stage, atrium and auditorium have been transformed into an art gallery on an immense scale. SENSORY4™ multimedia technology has been employed to provide vibrant visuals accompanied by a stunning and evocative musical score. The paintings are interspersed with many of Van Gogh’s memorable quotations and candid observations about life, art and death.
The ever-changing images draw us through Van Gogh’s short life, from his years as an emerging artist in The Netherlands, to his time in Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise in France. His works span different styles, often reflecting his ever-changing mental state, from earthy-coloured still life to rural landscapes, and from Japanese influences to starry nightime skies. Van Gogh’s final years were indeed his most prolific, despite spending much of this time institutionalised. Tortured by depression, poverty and psychosis, Van Gogh committed suicide at just 37 years old. According to popular lore, he only sold one painting, The Red Vineyard, during his lifetime.
This is no stuffy gallery, where you tiptoe around draughty rooms to spy upon one (usually disappointing) famous artwork. You’re encouraged to walk around freely, discuss with your companions, or just sit and enjoy the dynamic kaleidoscope of colour. I enjoyed watching a toddler dance around on the floor projection, blissfully unaware that they were spinning around on “Wheatfield with Crows’. The show is shown on a loop which lasts around 40 minutes, but you’re free to linger. The few photos I took really don’t do the exhibition justice. Van Gogh Alive truly has to be experienced to get the full effect.
Want to read more about enjoying art when you don’t know much about it? How about the time we ticked off all the galleries in Florence? A Brummie Home and Abroad’s Guide to 48(ish) hours in Florence
Spread over three floors, The Birmingham Hippodrome has been transformed into an interactive fun and educational experience. It’s the perfect outing both for art-lovers and those new to the world and works of Van Gogh. Visitors have the opportunity to show off their own artistic skills. There’s a life-sized representation of ‘The Bedroom’ where you can insert yourself into one of Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. And a mirrored sunflower room, with infinite photo opportunities. The third floor Cafe has had a Van Gogh style makeover, and there is a small gift shop as you exit. Unsurprisingly, the face masks seemed to be very popular.
Of course, the spectre of COVID-19 is never far away in these times, but Birmingham Hippodrome have done everything to ensure that visitors feel as safe as possible. There are plenty of hand sanitising points. I didn’t see anyone failing to adhere to the request to wear a face covering at all time. There are a limited amount of tickets for each time slot so social distancing is entirely possible. It was busy during our peak Saturday afternoon slot but I never felt as if we were crammed in.
The arts have been vital to keep us sane over the past seven months. Books, TV, crafting, photography, music. I have watched and re-watched new and beloved stage shows thanks to Sky Arts & YouTube. Art and culture have been a lifeline to many, and yet only now are venues starting to receive economic support. Public support is key for events such as this one. It’s a great opportunity to give back to an industry which has provided us with vital mental stimulation during lockdown. And to lose yourself, for just an hour or so, in a starry starry night.
Van Gogh Alive is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 31st December, you can find more info and book your tickets here.
The Birmingham Hippodrome have recently announced that they are a successful recipient of a £3m grant from the Cultural Recovery Fund. You can read more about this award here.