Thursday, 2 June 2016

'The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk'

Photo - Steve Tanner
"Each night, Marc comes homes and we invent a new colour,"
says his true love Bella.

Like a Russian Charlie Chaplin and Louise Brooks, actors Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson control the stage at the Bristol Old Vic with fierce slapstick abandon in this fresh production of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk from the ever-reliable Kneehigh Theatre Company.

Directed by Emma Rice as her swansong, this is the impassioned love story of painter Marc Chagall and his wife and muse Bella Rosenfeld. From their roots in the Belarus town of Vitebsk, the couple move across Europe and into New York with artistic abandon in their quest for recognition and appreciation, via the occasional return to Bella's hometown of Vitebsk. 

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is like a 1920s silent film that bursts through the fourth wall and comes all singing, all dancing into your lap like a paint-spattered sprite. There are moments of gleeful slapstick as Antolin and Brisson cavort around the cubist set throwing shadows and shade in their wake. The moments where the cast perform as human shadow puppets are truly delightful.

But more than anything, the love of this couple that endures through the increasingly tough times and the war years is what shines through. "Can you hear my eyeballs?" asks Marc of his belle in their early courtship, meaning could she hear the love he had for her pumping through his every being. You truly believe in the love of this playful, happy couple on their 'milk-moon', doing somersaults across each other in a wonderfully choreographed sequence by Etta Murfitt. 

In many ways, the representation of Marc and Bella reminded me of a happier version of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who existed in a parallel universe to the Chagalls. While Scott was lauded as the talented writer and Zelda his muse, her own talents as a writer were ignored until after her death. Similarly, Bella's own talents and desires as a writer were sidelined as she must be a mother to Marc's child while he focussed on his painting, and it was only after her premature death that her talent as a writer was discovered. As Marc mused in grief, "Although we saw the same things, she saw them with her own eyes."

Music written by Kneehigh regular Ian Ross is an integral part of the production and is as much a part of the script as the spoken words from the actors are. Ross was singularly responsible for composing all of the music in this production, which is also performed by James Gow. 

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk feels like an opportunity for Bella's story to come out of the shadows while Marc tags along for the ride. "Come on, Marc! Take part!" she implores him in the second act of the evening... and you feel there is more to be read into this than just the obvious. 

This is a proper love story. See it while you can.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 11 June. Click here for more information and to buy tickets. After it's run in Bristol, the show tours to various other locations around the UK - click here for more information about this

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