The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk presents a sheer whirlwind of colour and sound in a world ripped straight from the canvas. Streaming live until December 11th, the show guides its virtual audience through the lives of painter Marc Chagall and his wife Bella. The harrowing wartime tale is wrapped within a warmth of vibrancy and delight, yet one is aware of the ever-present undercurrent of hardship running beneath the surface of this otherwise magical world.
Everything about the show is crafted to shine a light on Chagall’s paintings. Sophia Clist’s set frames the show in a ragged, uneven border that mirrors the angles of the original artwork, whilst pulling elements of the show’s horror into the forefront. Rather than being stationary, the set behaves like a third performer with its ever-changing colours and interactive elements; it both borders and expands the world of the show.
In just the same way as the set, Ian Ross’s score breathes life into this creation. There is nothing as tangible as a musical number, rather it weaves ballads and Russian language throughout the piece with such grace that is able to pluck the hearts of viewers, even from their own homes. What was originally two performers has quickly become a crowd for the senses.
Marc Antolin (Marc Chagall) and Audrey Brisson (Bella Chagall) are neither lost nor overshadowed by the world surrounding them – the only slight hindrance can be found with the broadcast medium of the livestream. As ever with theatre, the joy comes from being able to appreciate the fine details, and often the shots are slightly too close, pulling the actors out from the surrounding elements.
Yet, that is not necessarily the worst thing either. For instead the audience can marvel at the delicate unfolding of the relationship between the two and both performances are a sheer delight to behold. From the moment Marc opens the show I was enraptured, caught up within the twists and turns of their war strewn romance. The show presents neither a political nor truly historical retelling. Instead, the title The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is as honest as Chagall’s paintings. The play is an insight into their relationship, shown through the struggles that life presents.
Emma Rice has managed to tear open Chagall’s work and reassemble it for the stage. The show is a wholly unified vision that balances comedy with horror, and colours with shadows that embrace and hold its audience from the beginning before gently releasing them back to their own lives at end. It is a true marvel of storytelling that must be seen, despite the online only viewing.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is streaming live from Bristol Old Vic until the 11th of December. For more information, see the Bristol Old Vic website.