Originally made by Emma Rice for Kneehigh as she was departing for her Globe adventure, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (online via Wise Children and Bristol Old Vic) is a love story about the Russian painter Marc Chagall and his writer wife, Bella, and also a love letter to art itself. It’s joys, hardships and all-consuming passions.
If you are looking for biographical detail you will need to look elsewhere, instead Daniel Jamieson’s delicate script and Rice’s production explore the inner lives of artists set against a backdrop of some of the most tumultuous events of the 20th century including two world wars and the Russian revolution.
Marc and Bella are forced into exile from their beloved Vitebsk but take the town with them in their minds wherever they wander over the next 20 years. They find beauty in the rubble. They turn sepia memory into vivid colour. The colour survives the obliterations of history and time. The lost Vitebsk lives on in Marc’s paintings and Bella’s memoir of her childhood which was only published after her death.
Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson. Photo by Steve Tanner.
Flying Lovers may look light as air, but Rice and Jamieson are gnawing at difficult questions about marriage, partnership, gender and the high cost of art. Does family life stifle creativity? Who must sacrifice what to enable talent to thrive? How do you turn life itself into an artform? Which is harder: giving birth to a baby or a painting, and should they even be compared? It is only after his wife’s death that Marc understands that although “we saw the same things; she saw them with her own eyes.” Bella was an artist in her own right.
The show comes packed with captivating score full of romance and Yiddish inspired folk songs created by Ian Ross and performed live, and is blessed with delightful performances of a sweet clownish intensity from Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson. Rice weaves magic; the evening soars.
The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is streaming online on selected dates until Fri 18 Dec. Ypou can book tickets here.