The Kneehigh production of The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

Theatre at its creative best is a marvellous thing. Emma Rice’s production of Daniel Jamieson’s The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk now on a Kneehigh tour is just that. The biodrama of Marc Chagall and his wife Bella is by itself life-enhancing and poignant; add inventive stagecraft and it becomes exhilarating. To convey Chagall’s art in theatrical terms there were unsurprisingly present his symbolic creatures (a cow, a chicken, a fish) but there was so much more. The movements and postures of the couple (for example, Bella horizontal, Marc stretching up to heaven) came straight out of the paintings as did the brilliant colours with which they were lit. If, particularly in the earlier years of their relationship, they appear as cartoon characters absorbed in the fantasy images of their emotions, is this not the essence of what Chagall communicates in his masterpieces?

In the second half of the show, the atmosphere necessarily changes. The grim reality of political disillusionment, exile, illness and even tension between them has to be explored as a counterweight to what has gone before. Life cannot be experienced forever as some idyllic dream. In an  interesting programme note, director Emma Rice relates how she and the author, soon to be married, played the couple in the first version of the play, and how though separated they came together, some twenty five years later, “older, kinder and wiser”, to work on it again. Just as Marc and Bella search within their memories for Vitebsk which is no more, so all of us have to reconcile our perhaps illusionary images of the past with the humdrum present.

Marc Cantolin and Daisy Maywood were superb as Chagall and Bella respectively, agile in movements, winsome in their projection of the text and touching in their singing. James Gow and Ian Ross provided admirable musical support.