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BWW Interview: Audrey Brisson talks THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK at Bristol Old Vic

The Olivier Award-nominated actress looks forward to her return as Bella Chagall

BWW Interview: Audrey Brisson talks THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK at Bristol Old Vic

Following the success of their Romantics Anonymous livestream, Wise Children are back at Bristol Old Vic with an early Christmas present for theatre-lovers: a limited run of Kneehigh's The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. Audrey Brisson returns to the role of Bella Chagall; she talked to us about her love for Bristol Old Vic and other fond theatrical memories from her career so far.

Are you looking forward to getting back on the stage again?

Yes, especially with all the theatres remaining closed and everything. It's just very exciting to feel that there is hope out there, and that it will all reopen one day soon. We were isolating this week at home, and tomorrow we'll all be travelling to Bristol, and having a fixed team bubble with the rest of the cast.

It's nice to see Flying Lovers again, as it is one of my favourite Emma Rice shows - and nice to see you in it again, too. Are you excited to be Bella once more?

Absolutely! It's a show that's very close to my heart, I've loved creating the part next to Marc Antolin. It's quite interesting, I did Tea & Biscuits with Emma Rice just last week, and we were reminiscing on how the rehearsal process for this show was particularly smooth. It felt like everything, all the creativity of it, was just pouring out of us all; music-wise, choreography, everything - it felt like the story was already there, ready to be told. Unfortunately I wasn't able to do the last tour, so it's very nice to have the opportunity to do it again, because I don't think it was meant to come back.

These two livestreams have definitely shown Emma's tenacity in trying to get theatre going again - not many other people have taken the plunge quite so much.

I know, she's just been absolutely wonderful throughout. Yay to Emma!

Belated congratulations on your Olivier nominations, both you and the team. Amélie was another beautiful show, and it must have been a shame that you couldn't all get together to celebrate at the Royal Albert Hall?

Yes, that was a bit of a shame. No matter the place, it would've been lovely to have the opportunity to have everyone together to celebrate the arts and theatre, but it is what it is. I watched it in my pyjamas in my living room, so that was quite nice.

Is Amélie another show you might be interested in revisiting at some point in the future?

Oh yeah, absolutely. Amélie is extremely dear to me; it's where I met the now father of my child, I think the story is great... I remember years and years and years ago when they were working on a musical of Amélie in America, already then I wanted to be a part of it. It's a great, great musical, with a fantastic team of actor-musicians who I adore, all of them. Though I think I could say that about every show that I've done! Either I'm delusional and I think they're all wonderful, or I've just been that fortunate in my career to be a part of excellent projects with wonderful creative people.

Looking back at your credits, there are a lot of wonderful shows on there - Pinocchio, for example. I loved all the puppets, and your casting as Jiminy Cricket.

Yes, with that tiny little puppet that I grew to love to bits. Again, such a wonderful piece, and we had such a great laugh with that show. You know you always have WhatsApp groups with the people of a show as you're doing it, because sometimes it's simpler to talk about rehearsals that way. When did we do Pinocchio? 2016, 2017? That WhatsApp group is still active, that's how strong the team was. Again, what lovely memories.

You're also currently on Bristol Old Vic screens with The Grinning Man - it was nice to see that make another digital comeback.

Yeah, it was a very unique show and had quite a strong following. It was one that again I didn't get to do the revival in London, but I love Bristol Old Vic. I'm a fan of that theatre; every time I go back it feels like I'm going home. I don't know if it's because it's not London so sometimes there's a bit more freedom to try stuff that's more daring, but I love the vibe at Bristol Old Vic, and Tom Morris is a lovely man, a lovely director.

Let's go back to Flying Lovers as that's what is on your radar at the moment. Am I right that you were doing a dance rehearsal this afternoon? So you've been doing that in the comfort of your own home?

Yes, it was very, very, very peculiar! It's a two-hander, so trying to practise dance routines with my dance partner currently in Wales; it was a very peculiar and unique way of rehearsing. But I think this is the third or the fourth revival of Flying Lovers, and I remember between the first and the second time ahead of the rehearsal process it felt like I couldn't remember anything, but if you remember the stage, the platform which we perform on is like a double rake. It's a unique design, and as soon as we stepped on the stage everything came flooding back, so I'm very much hoping that the same thing happens on Wednesday when we go back onstage. It was absolutely ludicrous in my living room earlier.

Obviously it's been a few years since you last did the show, but are there any parts of it that you remember particularly enjoying?

All of it! But there are lovely bubbles of moments between Marc and Bella that are very much about the poetry of his painting, the colours, and her words she would write down; when it's very, very calm with Ian Ross' absolutely stunning music in the background, you feel the Jewish-Russian world around you in those moments, and that's what I love. I love being transported back in time. I don't want to say too much for people who haven't seen the show yet, but there's a moment towards the end that's so poignant with the history.

BWW Interview: Audrey Brisson talks THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK at Bristol Old VicProduction shots very rarely capture a show fully, but I thought for Flying Lovers it did - the lighting, the colours, the choreography: it was like artwork. It's just a stunning thing to look at.

Yeah, and there are moments in the show where, if you pressed pause, you see a snapshot of one of Marc Chagall's paintings in the way that we move, though sometimes we move so quickly that it's a fleeting image.

Is there anything that you're not looking forward to as much?

Well, one downside of this lockdown is that one is perhaps not as in shape as one should be! So there are certain dance moves that I'm not looking forward to trying to do and then failing miserably. But honestly, it's an hour and a half piece, and it's beautiful. Also it's only four shows, so I don't think we'll have time to feel tired; as Etta (Murfitt - choreographer) was saying earlier today to trust the adrenaline, because there's so little opportunities to do it that it's bound to be exciting, and I am very fortunate to be working with wonderful people again. Marc has such a positive, bright energy that if you're on stage with him you can't feel tired. You just look at him and suddenly you've got the energy.

And you may even have an audience of sorts, potentially? I imagine that would be a nice boost, if you have some extra bodies in the room?

Yes, absolutely. My father's in Barbados at the moment, he might be able to come to the UK - he bought a ticket, but he's not sure yet. It would be lovely to have an audience in the theatre with us, but ultimately it's safety first. If we can't have an audience at least they're able to see the piece in their living rooms and I think that's better than nothing, isn't it?

Romantics Anonymous did very well, and it really felt like you were in the theatre - it will be interesting to see what the camera focuses in on.

Obviously with The Grinning Man, it was recorded for archive purposes - the intention was never to stream it like that, it was always to be performed live - I think that Emma's very good at adapting her pieces for the camera, so it will have this unique aspect. We'll be doing the same show, and yet it won't be the same show; it'll be a show very much specifically for the camera.

And if people reading this have yet to buy a ticket for Flying Lovers, why should they?

I think because it's a beautiful, beautiful piece; it's not long, there's no interval, and it will be recorded with the thought of an audience at home, not just a show that was recorded for the archives. I think it's going to have a very beautiful feel for you, the audience at home. I think we need to encourage theatres as much as possible, and we need to remember that it's still alive, it's still there, and so encourage it as much as you can. Watch it in your living room until you can finally come out and watch it for real!

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk streams online from Bristol Old Vic from 3-5 December

Picture credit: Steve Tanner


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From This Author Debbie Gilpin