The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

Home Theatre, Manchester; Tuesday 3rd April, 2018

 

 

Born into a life of nineteenth-century poverty in the heart of the old Russian Empire, the struggles of artist Marc Zakharovich Chagall fit all the stereotypes of a creative genius bullishly striving for recognition and reward. Though he may not have lived to see the full extent of it all, both recognition and reward did eventually come to Chagall – today, his paintings sell at around the $30 million mark.

Central to Chagall’s artistic endeavour is a recurring theme that clearly influences much of his early work – his first wife, Bella Rosenfeld.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a wonderfully bitter-sweet portrayal of two soulmates in the process of uniting – this is the story of how Marc and Bella first met, how they fell in love instantly, and how they both left such lasting and endearing imprints on each other’s lives.

The visual and auditory aspects of this show are superb – depictions of an artist at work that are art in themselves. The set is dominated by a raised platform that greatly restricts the performing space, almost concentrating the action into a tiny square where performers Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood deliver the lead roles. Props that initially seem to be merely decorative get suddenly and surprisingly thrust into focus as the story evolves: swinging pendulums, miniature train sets, and telephones. Everything on set eventually seems to fit together in a satisfying and pleasing way, much like the rest of the play.

Away from centre-stage but still visible in their fine evening wear are musicians Ian Ross and James Gow, who occasionally step forward in order to lend a hand as extras where the scene requires it. But for the most part they deliver an exquisitely beautiful soundtrack: piano, banjo and cello working together to create a smooth and sultry auditory performance that’s arguably good enough to be a show in its own right.

But despite all of this beauty, from the very beginning a sense of sadness and dread hangs heavy over this performance – so well portrayed is the jingly jangly happiness of a couple who are madly in love that it creates a desperate sense of nervous apprehension that all is not going to end well.

This pessimism is well founded, because running alongside the love story, just as it did in real life, are the big socio-political events of the early twentieth century: the first world war, the collapse of the Russian Empire, and most sinister of all the isolation and eventual persecution of eastern European Jews.

 

 

The most charming allure of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk lies in the fact that, even though the plot tells of such world changing events, their impact seems to only matter when measured against the two ongoing battles for professional recognition that are raging on stage: Marc with his painting, Bella with her writing. The danger around them seems to fade and disperse as soon as husband and wife retreat to their safe memories of what brought them together in the first place.

Delivered partly as a singing and dancing musical affair and partly as a more conventional play, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a gentle and comforting love story that convincingly and rationally puts across the otherwise inexplicable emotion of being so in love with someone that you just don’t care what happens around you.

 

Summary

Performance aspect Comments Score
Visual pleasure Gorgeous imagery created by the scenes of silhouettes dancing in the background. Plenty going on visually in this play, it really feels like you are entering the world of two creative artists. 4
Auditory pleasure Outstandingly good live music performance, particularly on piano. Added so much extra to the overall experience. 5
Architecture & Theme If it wasn’t based on real-world events, it would probably seem a bit far-fetched; but the story of the Chagalls has been brilliantly transformed into a viable production by writer Daniel Jamieson – who starred in the original version of this play with Emma Rice, who now directs it. 4
Artistic delivery Exemplary singing, acting and dancing from the lead performers; outstanding performance from both musicians also. 5
Overall impact This is a love story that creates a different kind of mood, the relationship seems so genuine, these appear to be two people who’ll do anything for each other, no matter what happens. 4
Final Score: 4.4

 

Scoring Scheme

0 Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse
1 Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor
2 Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special
3 Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way
4 Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive
5 Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.

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