BWW Review: THE FLYING LOVERS OF VITEBSK, Wilton's Music Hall
After a short stay at the Bristol Old Vic, and an award-winning run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Daniel Jamieson's play about the life and love of Marc and Bella Chagall begins a UK/US tour at Wilton's Music Hall in east London. Directed by Emma Rice, it follows in the wake of Romantics Anonymous and precedes the return of Brief Encounter and the debut of her brand new theatre company Wise Children.
Stuck in the middle of a phone call when he'd rather be concentrating on his notebook, Marc Chagall's attention is grabbed by a comment about the recurring image of flying lovers in his paintings - in order to explain it, he takes us on a nostalgic trip to Vitebsk as he knew and loved it. He and Bella meet when they were both quite young; first he asks her to model for him, but almost immediately they become an item. Despite Marc being a poor Jewish painter (who disappears off to Europe to work on his art for four years), the pair marry and make plans to visit Paris together.
Their early wedded bliss is interrupted by the outbreak of World War One, with Marc narrowly avoiding a call-up to the Front. Following the October Revolution the Chagalls return to Vitebsk with their baby daughter, and Marc sets up his own art school - though stability is shortlived when he is denied access, and Bella's parents have their jewellery shops raided by the state. It seems like they are destined to struggle to survive.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a riot of colour, filled with music and movement that eagerly brings the couple to life in front of your eyes; a vision of expressionism in many glorious forms. Malcolm Rippeth uses the stage as his canvas, as his lighting design emulates Chagall's own penchant for vivid colour - and Etta Murfitt joins forces with Rice once more to create fluid and expressive choreography. Jamieson's words spring from the page like poetry.
Kneehigh associate artist Ian Ross provides the score (played by himself and James Gow), including a beautiful musical version of Rachel Korn's poem No One Knows It (translated into English) and a recurring theme steeped in Russian Jewish tradition. Sound and vision are seamlessly sewn together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.
Daisy Maywood joins the show for this tour to play Bella. A knowing maturity coupled with a keen sense of fun shows Bella as the independent spirit that she is; creative but realistic. Maywood's vocals soar effortlessly through the hall with a great warmth and depth.
Marc Antolin returns once more as Marc Chagall, the occasionally difficult (but always brilliant) artist. He well and truly embraces the physical side of the role, happily throwing himself around the stage and showing off surprising flexibility. Antolin's comic timing is, as ever, spot on - and he and Maywood make the perfect team.
This is a welcome return for a show that has had relatively little stage time before now (it also played the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse during Emma Rice's first summer season at Shakespeare's Globe), and there is so much packed into 90 minutes that is bound to delight audiences both here and across the pond. A gorgeously emotional and uplifting piece of theatre.
Picture credit: Steve Tanner