The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk tells the story of Marc and Bella Chagall as they navigate the difficulties of early 20th century Russia, revelling in their love amongst a multitude of hardships. As with so much lockdown theatre, the theme of finding love and joy in the most difficult of times resonates strongly with the experiences of a 2020 audience faced with trying to stay connected during a global pandemic.
In terms of the way it’s been filmed, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk comes the closest to providing a genuine theatre experience of any post-lockdown production I’ve seen. Opening with a shot of Bristol Old Vic’s beautiful interior, the show pans to the sparsely-set stage. During the performance the camerawork is unobtrusive and allows the viewer to simply experience the show before them. And what a show it is.
Marc Antolin (Marc Chagall) and Audrey Brisson (Bella Chagall) are a delight to watch together, having such natural chemistry and impeccable timing. I was stunned by Brisson’s vivacious and nuanced performance in Amelie, and her Bella is equally impressive. The lovers have an almost symbiotic relationship, symbolised in the performance with synchronised dances and close, beautiful harmonies which are executed with precision. The fun they’re having on stage is infectious, and it is easy for the viewer to get swept up in it.
The performance effortlessly interweaves a mashup of dance, singing, mime, and shadow work, creating a vibrant and varied performance. Antolin and Brisson flip effortlessly between languages, singing in Yiddish as a nod to the Chagalls’ Jewish heritage. Love is emphasised throughout, with the grey set lighting up in the bright colours of Marc’s paintings whenever the two interact. As a fun touch, props have also been lifted directly from his works.
The cast is deceptively small, featuring only the lovers and two musicians, who play their instruments on stage and occasionally fill in for lesser, background roles. Having such a small cast allows the intimacy of the Chagalls’ relationship to shine through but in no way diminishes the production; even with such a tiny ensemble, the digital Flying Lovers is as vibrant and full of life as any West End production.
Despite being streamed online, Flying Lovers somehow captures the pure magic of live theatre, and I’m only a little bit embarrassed to say that after the performance I went off to do the washing up feeling as if I was floating. It’s the type of performance that you can get lost in.
Ok, that’s the review. Now I’m off to go and watch Flying Lovers another ten times.
Written by: Daniel Jamieson
Directed by: Emma Rice
Music by: Ian Ross
Produced by: Bristol Old Vic, Kneehigh and Wise Children
The show was initially streamed live, and will now be available on demand from the 11 – 18 December (with additional behind-the-scenes footage!). Booking details via theatre website below.