The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a vivid, colourful piece of theatre which tells the love story of Marc and Bella Chagall. The cast and creative team of this show have successfully breathed new life into this biographical tale by incorporating song, dance and physical theatre into the narrative.
Starting in the city of Vitebsk and travelling to Petersburg, where the couple learn to live under the pervading darkness of World War II, the play shows us the continual conflict between art and the reality of living. The couple are played by Audrey Brisson and Marc Antolin, and they are accompanied on stage by live musicians who interact with the actors and narrative throughout. The music provides both an atmospheric soundtrack and soaring musical numbers to complement the powerful voices of both Brisson and Antolin.
There are multiple moments of stunning elegance throughout the show, created through physical theatre that is brimming with imagination and romanticism.
This is all beautifully set against a well-crafted backdrop, designed by Sophie Clist. The wooden eaves from which the actors hang and the geometric back wall on which dramatic silhouettes are created are the perfect set for such a visually beautiful play. The aesthetic quality of this show is what makes its style of storytelling so unique.
Though the show also explores the political context in which the lovers live and struggle, these focuses are perhaps less effective than the moments when the intensity of the love between Marc and Bella is under the magnifying glass. Both actors capture the many layers of a complicated relationship with ease. They show the stumbling and undignified parts of it at some points, and immerse us in its giddy euphoria at others.
But this play is not only about love, it is also about art. Sculptures of symbols from Chagall’s paintings are used creatively in dance to explore the characters he has conjured up. The creative process of painting is portrayed through elegant physicality, and the play manages to be self-referential about its own state as a piece of art without breaking its spell.
There is a delicacy to this play which makes it charming as well as awe inspiring. It is theatre at its most magical.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is playing at the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until August 27.