Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Flying Lovers Of Vitebsk

Daniel Jamieson
Kneehigh
HOME, Manchester
03 April 2018 to 07 April 2018

For the most part, this brilliant and moving show is a starry eyed and laughing look at love and art and creativity and, erm, the history of the early Twentieth Century. Famously, the painter Marc Chagall often painted himself and his wife Bella flying together “as if their shared joy had such force it defied the law of gravity itself”, as writer Daniel Jamieson says.

Much of this show too has an extraordinary quality of weightlessness, almost as if it’s somehow happening on the edge of your consciousness, not on a stage a few feet away from an enraptured audience. More than once I was reminded of Francis Ford Coppola’s unfairly dismissed film One From The Heart (although that might just be a personal idiosyncrasy!). But that doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty steely-eyed too, when it comes to the complexity of creativity, the problems with keeping the flames of passion alive over the years and, yep, the history of the early Twentieth Century, particularly for the Jews of Europe and Russia.

Basically, it’s a love story about two, apparently very different, characters Marc (Marc Antolin) and Bella Chagall (Daisy Maywood) who, from the moment they met in Vitebsk, Belarus, in 1909, seemed to share a unique way of perceiving the world around them. He, of course, was a painter, famous even at the time if only for insisting that cows could be green, and she a writer, much less well-known even now but undeservedly so.

As well as their remarkable and apparently unstoppable creativity – so joyfully celebrated on stage that you can’t help but be swept along with it as if it’s a physical force – their personal story was also intimately interlinked with the history of the time, including Modernism and Cubism in Paris, as well as revolution in Russia then the souring of its idealism, plus the terrifying Europe-wide anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust.

There’s undeniable poignancy in the fact that the show was originally written, as a play called Birthday, over twenty-five years ago when Jamieson and director Emma Rice were themselves a couple, in love with the idea of being in love and, as Rice says, “challenged to be artists” by the story of Marc and Bella. Married no more, they were able to revisit both couples “older, kinder and wiser” in 2016. There’s a visceral quality, then, to the emotions and arguments in The Flying Lovers Of Vitebsk that’s complemented by the use of live music from Ian Ross and James Gow.

It's a show that's it's easy to fall in love with - and why would you want to resist that sweet temptation?

Reviewer: Kevin Bourke

Comments

Comment by David Cunningham

With Kneehigh audiences have become accustomed to high-tech , multi-media experiences. But the scaled down ,back to basics, approach the Company takes to The Flying Lovers Of Vitebsk seems almost humble and perfectly in tune with the simplicity and understated beauty of the story