A stage scattered with wheat and countless pages of writing. A desk stands centre stage left. Upstage right – a chair. Downstage right – an empty easel. Joseph Winder enters sombrely as Theo Van Gogh. He carries a brown paper parcel in his arms and the weight of a Vincent-less world on his shoulders. In these first moments, Winder has his audience in hand.
At Eternity’s Gate finds Theo Van Gogh alone in a wheat field slowly becoming the man in the famous Van Gogh painting of the same name. Head in his hands, Theo laments the loss of his brother and close friend, as the thought of eternity stretches out before him. In the space of just half an hour Winder takes his audience on a journey of love, anger, and grief which explores a perspective on a well-known life that many may fail to consider. As the story unfolded, I became increasingly aware of my own frequent failure to recognise other such invisible individuals behind so many of our world’s famous creatives. Like many people I am familiar with Van Gogh’s Starry Night, his act of cutting off his own ear during a hallucination, and the famous myth that he ate yellow paint to feel happy, but I have never once spared a thought for those who spent their lives supporting him. As Theo so passionately ascertains “there’s no starry night sky without me” and that, it seems, is most certainly true.
This play challenges us to consider more deeply the value of those who sacrifice for another’s success. By revealing the deep bond shared between Theo and Vincent Van Gogh, Winder invites us to consider the importance of loving relationships. His script paints Theo as an individual deeply affected by his brother, who stands at a loss without his sibling. Together we ponder the significance of objects passed between people as Theo asks “have you ever become immediately attached to something before? Something you didn’t know you needed until you have it.”
A small-scale production, At Eternity’s Gate shows promise. Even while competing with a music event directly outside the venue, the play, with Winder at its centre, holds its own. Minimal in design, the show allows its creator and content to shine through, leaving us simply wishing for there to be a greater journey for the character and, subsequently, more to the story. In its current form the play is more of an examination of a moment in time than a full narrative, yet the moment is poignant, meaningful, and has intention. The only question now is whether Winder’s audience will one day be treated to more?
Full of beautiful language and relational truths, Winder’s solo show is truly worth a watch.
Created and performed by Joseph Winder
At Eternity’s Gate ran on 9 September 2023 at the Etcetera Theatre