With its dizzying fusion of text, music, movement, dance and design, THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK captivates the soul and ravishes the senses
If you aren’t familiar with Marc Chagall’s work before watching THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK, I’d recommend you Google him. Not because you need to have seen his paintings to appreciate Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic’s production, but because your experience will be richer because of it.
Inspired by the life of Chagall and his writer wife Bella, THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK is a story of love – love of life, love of art and love for each other. The innovative production traces the young couple’s relationship from their meeting at a friend’s house in their hometown of Vitebsk, to their survival through World War One, the Russian Revolution and beyond. Told through a dizzying fusion of text, music, movement, dance and design, this emotional and uplifting piece of theatre captivates the soul and ravishes the senses, immersing you in a world of colour, art, music and romance.
Marc and Bella’s story plays out in the early decades of the 20th century. A student of philosophy, history and literature, Bella quickly falls for her best friend’s new acquaintance, Marc, for whom she daringly models. The penniless artist is equally smitten and his love for her, as well as his art, inspire his many paintings, most notably those with the flying lovers who soar above the rooftops.
What makes THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK so captivating is how Director Emma Rice brings together text, music, movement, dance and design to deliver an intimate and moving exploration of art and love. Daniel Jamieson’s poetic and funny script perfectly complements Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting design as bursts of colours flood the stage. Imagery and motifs from Chagall’s many paintings are cleverly incorporated into the piece, from the green cow of L’ÂNE VERT (1911) to the depiction of an ancient rabbi who became the subject of Chagall’s 1914 portrait THE PRAYING JEW (RABBI OF VITEBSK).
As expected from a Kneehigh production, there are moments of theatrical invention, including an incredibly entertaining Jewish wedding dance as well as some beautiful fluid and expressive choreography by Rice and Etta Murfitt. Add in original instrumental music and songs from musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, as well as Sophia Clist’s off-kilter set and THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK dazzles like a magic show.
Marc Antolin makes a welcome return as Chagall, the charming and clown-like painter. With his deadpan comedy and nonchalant athleticism, Antolin’s Chagall not only wins over Bella with his boyish optimism but also the audience. Daisy Maywood is equally superb as Bella, the creative yet realistic writer whose vocals soar through HOME’s intimate theatre with warmth and depth.
Like Chagall’s paintings, the constant whirl of colour and surreal humour may not be to everyone’s taste and the script has historical ambitions that, at times, seem a little too big to fit into the whirlwind 90-minute piece.
That said, this is a deeply personal and fascinating story, told beautifully through choreography, evocative song and live music. A modern masterpiece that is almost too beautiful to look at.
THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK runs at HOME, Manchester until 7 April 2018
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.