The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is available to stream on the Wise Children Digital and Bristol Old Vic websites from 3 - 5 December at 7:30pm. Tickets £16 - £31. Read our review of the original 2018 production at Wilton's Music Hall below.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk review ★★★★★, Wilton's Music Hall
Prepare to be charmed. This account of the love affair, marriage and nomadic life of Marc Chagall and his model and muse Bella Rosenfeld is moving, funny, and instructive. But above all it sparkles with the enchantment that inhabits every one of the artist's works, whether solemn or joyful.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk bounces like a new rubber ball on to the cosy stage at Wilton's Music Hall, and as befits the venue, it has a bright vaudevillian streak. But like the best cabaret, however spontaneous it seems, this captivating play with music has been honed over the decades since its writer and director first devised it and played, originally, the only two roles.
Director Emma Rice, whose unashamed flair for a kind romance was most recently displayed in Romantics Anonymous was the first to play the jeweller's daughter Bella. A student of philosophy, history and literature, Bella falls for her best friend's new acquaintance, Marc, for whom both girls daringly model. The penniless artist is equally smitten: Marc Chagall has his inspiration for life, and the world he will paint, wherever the couple wash up, will have its roots in the couple's rural home town, Vitebsk, Belarus.
A green cow and red cockerel glide through Chagall's celebration of the simple life that, for this couple, is frequently disrupted, by political upheaval, war and flight. Jewish in early 20th-century eastern Europe, they are displaced as the ground keeps moving from under them. No wonder all Chagall's living creatures take to the safety of the free air, cruising over rooftops in Sophia Clist's design, a simple spinney of uprights and beams.
Bella is now played by Daisy Maywood, who reveals that beneath Bella's vivacity and gift for whimsy is a passion for words that colour and illuminate the world as vividly as her lover's painting. And as Marc Chagall, is another Marc – Marc Antolin, who seems born to play this role. With his Buster Keaton-like deadpan comedy and nonchalant athleticism, Antolin's white-faced clown wins over Bella – and us – with his boyish optimism. As it was for Bella, it is love at first sight.
Rice's sure-footed direction, like her choreography with Etta Murfitt, never misses a beat. She and the writer Daniel Jamieson were a couple soon to be married at the time of the play's evolution in the 1990s: they saw a Chagall double portrait in Paris, and the piece was born. Together they created, and it still rings true, a poetic insight that is frankly rare in drama of a couple who actually get along; playwrights prefer, on the whole, the well-tuned marital spat. True, Bella and Marc quarrel when it takes him four days to get home to see their newborn daughter, and her passion for the theatre is greater than his when, out of favour, he reluctantly accepts a scene painting job. (It proves to be among his greatest work.)
'We're like a pair of opera glasses,' says Chagall. 'We see the same thing.' Their senses are conjoined as they revel in colour, scent and sound, and shrug off the ordinary with their inventive vocabulary of movement. Leaping, leaning, melting into one, they leave gravity behind and put in its place tableaux that are the paintings come to life.
This whole joyous affair, a Kneehigh production with Bristol Old Vic, is shot through with original instrumental music and songs by Ian Ross, who, with cellist James Gow is on stage, one moment at the piano or mandolin, the next neatly moving props. Impeccably directed, with every moment of enchantment supported by the stage equivalent of good housekeeping, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk dazzles like a magic show. Help yourself to this modern masterpiece.
|What||Kneehigh: The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, online via Bristol Old Vic|
03 Dec 20 – 05 Dec 20, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Price||£16 - £31|
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|