DramaReviewSouth West

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk – Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Daniel Jameson

Director: Emma Rice

Composer/Musical Director: Ian Ross

Designer: Sophia Clist

Reviewer: Fran Parker

Once again, Kneehigh Theatre Company manages to hit the high notes, soaring to theatrical greatness through their depiction of love, loss, and change. Becoming immersed in the lives of Marc and Bella Chagall, the audience is transported to the Russian era of war and revolution. Set between 1909 when the lovers meet, and after 1944 when Bella dies, the story unfolds.

Having been reimagined in its 25th year, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk has returned to the stage and is more powerful than ever before. Having not only created the tale of Marc Chagall’s life, writer Daniel Jameson once performed in his work alongside acclaimed director, Emma Rice. When younger and in love, their imagination of these characters was sublime but naïve. This production rather more aptly demonstrates, particularly through Rice’s talented direction, experience and wisdom, the occasionally unromantic, turbulent and cold realities of life. The result being a show with a more accurate representation of the world in which we live and the lives that all people lead.

The set is fragmented and sparse, but sturdy, wooden poles illustrates Jameson’s message perfectly. Designer Sophia Clist’s bare structure becomes somewhat symbolic of life’s canvas: blank and bare but fundamentally stable despite the upheaval, change, and uncertainty it faced. The temporary additions of cloth serve to reinforce, both metaphorically and literally, how shelter from life’s storm is fleeting and brief. Similarly, the manner in which the set is manipulated and adapted by the characters reveals, to some extent, we all have some control when directing our life’s course. The colours too, rather less subtly, guide the audience towards a particular feeling or evoke a specific emotion. By using vivid shades, Clist’s stage comes alive and the audience experiences the colourful world of Chagall’s imagination.

Musically this production is flawless. Ian Ross’ compositions are artistically and thoughtfully brought to life. The beautiful resilience of a persecuted race became not only realised through language but also, sound. James Gow accompanies Ross superbly, and both enable the sounds of Jewish Europe to echo throughout the auditorium. Notably, their roles are two-fold and they weave seamlessly from passive to active members of the narrative – signifying the fleeting interactions that occur during a person’s life.

Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood are exceptionally good in their respective roles. Their chemistry on stage surpasses the believable to become relatable – resulting in, on a number of occasions, tears shed by the audience. Their character’s imperfections are subtly revealed, and through the medium of expressive dance, their feelings are exposed. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a truly marvellous production.

Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. 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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