The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic
Daniel Jamieson (writer), Emma Rice (director), Ian Ross (musical director) Sophia Clist (designer), Malcolm Rippeth (lighting), Simon Baker (sound design), Etta Murfitt, Emma Rice (choreographers)
Marc Antolin (Marc Chagall) and Audrey Brisson (Bella Chagall), James Gow and Ian Ross (musicians)

Running time

The longing lyrics of the sorrowful old love song I’m making believe it’s you top and tail this mesmerising staging of the early life of Marc and Bella Chagall, who are the flying lovers of the play’s title.

Chagall was a painter with a radical style in times of radical change. Political events meant that he and his wife were forced to have a wandering life that had them flee from Vitebsk to St Petersburg, Moscow, Paris and New York and it is this part of their lives together that Daniel Jamieson has brought to life with his script that’s bursting at the seams with poetic language.

The vibrant, colourful and dreamlike flowing quality that give Chagall’s paintings distinction is painted on the slopey stage that’s inside what looks like a modern child’s playpark structure made with rough wood. Behind is a screen like a section of a kite whose colour casts soft changing lights adding to the production’s surreal and magical air that still manages to capture reality.

Like in many relationships of the time, and since, the woman’s work is subsumed to her male partner’s though Bella shows little bitterness that her Yiddish words are ignored in this love story where Chagall has them published after her death, too absorbed in his own art to do so before.

From the honky tonk and circus style music from James Gow and Ian Ross on piano and cello before the show begins, to the bits of magic, mime and comic clowning woven in to the show, Chagall’s love of circus is present throughout like a discreet guest.

And that’s before the exquisitely choreographed movements and nifty dance moves, that make Antolin and Brisson as Marc and Bella look like believable lovers, get a mention. It is here that Brisson’s Cirque du Soleil experience shines through in her grace and fluidity.

Add to this the perfectly designed costumes, like the clever Pierrot style dress that mirrors a style worn by Bella, and the two superb actors, who manage to simultaneously look utterly of now and of another age, singing beautifully harmonised songs to live music of accordion and trumpet on stage and you have the full theatrical package.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a fabulous piece of visual and physical theatre that delights from start to end as it glimpses at troubled times with a kindly eye.

Tuesday 15 to Saturday 26 August 2017