I have a confession; I have seen The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk before, actually, I’ve seen it twice before in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse and at Wilton’s Music Hall. I loved it so much I jumped at the chance to see it again, this time virtually from Bristol Old Vic. It gave a completely different perspective to the performance, seeing the actors so close up. I could appreciate their facial expressions so much more than I normally can, many rows back through myopic eyes.
The Flying Lovers tells the story of Jewish Russian painter Marc Chagall and his muse, model and wife Bella. We witness momentous history through their eyes; from their meeting in 1909 in Vitebsk (in modern-day Belarus), two world wars, the October Revolution, and the context and consequences of the spread of both Communism, and later Nazism, throughout Europe.
All this is achieved with a cast of two: Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall. They are ably supported on stage by Composer and Musical Director Ian Ross on Piano and James Gow on cello. As soon as Ian started to play the piano I felt a sense of excitement that I very rarely feel in these COVID days, the music is beautiful and truly encapsulates the atmosphere and events that are taking place throughout the play’s proceedings.
Everything about this production is delightful, the music, the set design and the costumes are all perfect. The colours of the costumes are vibrant, almost dazzling in fact, just like Chagall’s paintings. Green cows and red cockerels feature heavily. Marc Antolin demonstrates tremendous athleticism, leaping and springing around the stage and he and Audrey Brisson also have spectacular singing voices.
Marc and Bella see the same things and enjoy and appreciate the same things, they live through tremendous hardships together. With Marc working long hours while Bella stays in their tiny flat in St Petersburg in order to look after their baby. Every night he comes home, and they invent a new colour. They see the same things, but he manifests these concepts, paints them and puts his name at the bottom of the painting. Bella, who is highly intelligent and well-educated writes a journal which is not discovered and translated until after her death.
The Chagalls were soulmates who saw the same things but saw them differently. This production is a sheer delight, probably Director Emma Rice’s greatest triumph, just what we need in these dark days.
Review by Sally Knipe
Perhaps you’ve seen them floating over a Russian village? Or perhaps you’ve seen her toppling forward, arms full of wild flowers, as he arches above her head and steals a kiss.
Meet Marc and Bella Chagall—the flying lovers of Vitebsk! Partners in life and on canvas, Marc and Bella are immortalised as the picture of romance. But whilst on canvas they flew, in life they walked through some of the most devastating times in history.
Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh and Wise Children present
Kneehigh’s The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Written by Daniel Jamieson
Directed by Emma Rice; music by Ian Ross; Set and Costume design: Sophia Clist; Lighting design: Malcolm Rippeth; Sound design: Simon Baker; Choreography: Etta Murfitt.