Flying Lovers of Vitebsk *****


TRAVERSE THEATRE        (V15)    

August 15th to 27th (not 21st)

Various times

This is a wonderful show that has to be mentioned to everyone I meet. At the opening the mellow singing of, “I’m making believe it’s you,” creates a romantic and maybe nostalgic mood, and the same song returns at the end of the show, where it has a much deeper resonance. This is the story of the life of Marc Chagall and his Bella. Chagall was a Russian Jewish painter with a distinctive, flowing style, sometimes exuberant, later often melancholy, often labelled surreal. The play takes us from the first meeting of Marc ( Marc Antolin) and Bella (Audrey Brisson) in 1914 in his home town of Vitebsk, up to the post 1945 period.

The simple set is almost like a children’s play area, and one in which the ease of movement, od dance and acrobatics, of the performers is very impressive. Very good use is made of a hanging telephone early on,  through which clogged theory tries to invade. But this is a space for vivid and exuberant life only. This is a joint production with Kneehigh Theatre and Bristol Old Vic, and is a demonstration of enormous theatrical skill. Audrey Brisson’s experience with Cirque du Soleil bears fruit here.

We see the Chagalls having to move from Vitebsk to St Petersburg, to Moscow, to be feted following the revolution, then to fall out of favour, and on to Paris and New York – with Marc’s refrain about the fate of the scores of synagogues in Vitebsk following him. Daniel Jamieson’s script is evocative and poetic, and the show is a triumph for director  Emma Rice.

It is difficult to convey the combination of lightness of touch and depth of feeling that characterises this show. Much is added by musicians James Gow and Ian Ross. The sadness here is largely a matter of how the strength of the personal life can be damaged by the chaos of society and of the outer life. This play is like a flowing, dreamlike monument to these lives. I cannot recommend it too highly.


Tony Challis