The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk- Bristol Old Vic.

Reviewer: Miriam Sallon

Writer: Daniel Jamieson

Director: Emma Rice

“Shall i tell you a secret? In 1914, Vitebsk wasn’t black and white at all.”

Emma Rice’s touch is unmistakable throughout her portfolio: seedy and wholesome in one breath, triple threats showcased seemingly incidentally, gorgeously garish child-like props, and, her most important trademark, a subsuming sense of collaboration and community. It speaks to her immense talent that she is able to create the latter with a cast of only four, beamed into quiet living rooms the world over.

The romance of Marc and Bella Chagall, whilst perhaps an odd choice at first glance, is in fact an almost ideal tale for Emma Rice’s ‘Wise Children’ to undertake. It is at once so many things: a lattice of tragedy and romance, aesthetic beauty and ugly reality, whimsy and solemnity. And ‘Wise Children’’s characteristically dreamlike delivery shows how true it is that all of these things can exist, not just in one lifetime, or one relationship, but in one moment.

Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson tell the story of the Chagalls beautifully and with immense care, on a tiny, lopsided and raked stage, as designed by Sophia Clist, giving a feeling of exclusivity and intimacy: we, the select few, may watch such grand talent on such a tiny stage, and in our pyjamas no less!

Ian Ross’s compositions bring a living urgency to Bella and Marc’s stories, particularly his parallel use of English and Yiddish lyrics. Sometimes borrowing from Polish poet Rachel Korn, there is a wonderful discordance to the lack of rhyme. “No one knows it, not even you, that wherever I go, I carry your glance” is very much reminiscent of his opening composition in Wise Children, borrowing, in that instance, from Angela Carter’s fairy-tales, “I have sharp teeth inside my mouth, inside my dark red lips”.

Whilst most of us will likely be more familiar with Marc Chagall’s work than Bella’s, writer Daniel Jamieson focuses our attentions on her over him. But as with many historical female figures, there isn’t a whole lot to go on, and so we’re left with a sense of mourning, not just for her tragically premature end, but for what she might have accomplished had she been given the opportunity. The story is both nearly all about her, but also nearly completely lacking of her.

The play comes to a close, and after a thin applause from the crew, the camera pans out and we see the beautiful Bristol Old Vic, empty save a few brightly lit computer screens and their users. A rather unnatural sight after such a spellbinding performance, and a necessary reminder of how much effort has gone into bringing this very special and captivating production to our screens when it would have been so much easier to do nothing and wait for normality to return.

One more live show on 11 December and then on demand until 18 December 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Absolute magic

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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