Pros: Actors with emotional depth and great choreographed talent.
Cons: The overall run of the show is too short, and while the space is stunning, it’s also physically cramped.
‘Each night Marc comes home and we invent a new colour.’ In turn, each night Emma Rice’s final spectacle for Kneehigh bring a fresh, vibrant and tender glimpse into the world of two passionate and intertwined souls. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk charts the romantic lives and times of Marc and Bella Chagall, from its shy beginnings to its poignant end. Not that it feels like it really has an end: their relentless devotion seems to transcend and stretch beyond the very boundaries and fly high into the air, as the title suggests.
There is a beautiful, almost child-like quality to the lovers’ courtship. They twirl around the stage with precision and grace, and at times it felt like a ballet performance. Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson are both marvels, not only bringing real depth to the Chagalls’ love story, but also a sense of whimsical self-awareness. They are put through their paces with multi-lingual songs and sudden surges of energy in traditional dance. They are consistently enveloped in one another, complementary and utterly devoid of one-upmanship. Essentially, they really do make the perfect onstage couple!
Props are used to brilliant effect here. They rely on subtlety, giving a nod to the audience rather than screaming the obvious. A red balloon on a string is Bella’s red-cheeked friend, a pail hanging from a rope is the ticking of time as Bella waits long hours for Marc to arrive. Whether it’s a wedding dress under a simple black ensemble or a giant green cow coming out of a small suitcase, each idea is carefully initiated and fits perfectly with the play’s sense of wonder and fun. The set design resembles a deconstructed Da Vinci helicopter, all crooked and nonsensical.
Yet through all the smiles lie deeper themes of identity and loss. The town of Vitebsk at the very beginning is described as now merely dust; only postcards (distributed amongst the audience) remain as its lasting physical memory. The horror of anti-semitism is a shadow always behind the lovers, always determining the course of their onward path. In the end, after all that they knew of the past is lost, it is their love which makes their present bearable. Again props provide emotional connection, in particular two suitcases full of pairs of shoes and books, a clear indicator of the Jewish sufferings during the Holocaust.
Try to catch this beautiful portrayal of innocent and imaginative lovers if you can, it speaks to any heart that has felt the joys of love, and the pain.
Author: Daniel Jamieson
Director: Emma Rice
Box Office: 020 7401 9919
Booking Link: http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/the-flying-lovers-of-vitebsk-2016
Booking Until: 2 July 2016