The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

“I first saw The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at the Oxford Playhouse in 2018, in a world that seems entirely different from the one we find ourselves in today.

“I’ve seen quite a few shows since then, yet this play is one that stays with you. Revisiting it it virtually was certainly different, but still an absolute pleasure.

“be quick because there has been a huge demand for tickets both in the UK and America for the live streams”

“Performed live for its online audience from the Bristol Old Vic, in collaboration with Kneehigh and Wise Children theatre companies, as the west country is in Tier 3, it feels odd to view the almost empty auditorium before the show begins, a camera giving us a bird’s eye view of what the pandemic has done to the world of entertainment.

“And yet, director Emma Rice, refuses to kowtow to Covid, standing defiantly in the barren stalls to introduce those behind the scenes who’ve made this experience possible for us all, before the show kicks off. 

Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson reprise their roles

“Written by Daniel Jamieson and based on the real lives of Marc Chagall, the famous Jewish artist and his wife Bella, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is a touching love story.

“Both Laurence Olivier nominated actors, Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson reprise their roles. 

“Bookended by a phone call, the narrative absorbs us into the trials and joys of their life together. Though the threat of Jewish persecution and the trauma of the refugee experience that shadows the couple’s lives, their performance strikes the perfect balance between lively action and still reflection, humour and poignant drama.

Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall. Pics by Steve Tanner

“From the innocence of their first meeting, to their struggles through World War I, the Russian Revolution and the beginnings of the Holocaust, these historic, harrowing moments in time are the backdrop to their journey. We see Marc’s battle to get his work recognised by the public, the birth of their daughter Ida and their escape to America in 1941. The creative team ensuring that the the movement of time is seamless throughout.

“Marc and Audrey work homogeneously, their elegant faces chalky white and lips ruby red as they express so vividly to us two points of view of the same world.

“While Marc was (eventually) famed for his surrealist paintings and depicting himself and Bella flying in his work, Bella’s talent as a writer was sadly overshadowed during her lifetime, she his muse for life. Although loving her dearly, Marc was largely blind to her own thoughts and ambitions.

“Requiring skilled acrobatic choreography from the duo, I am once again in awe of Marc and Audrey’s limber movements seemingly unaffected by gravity, their routines, including vigorous Yiddish dancing, further complicated by the beautiful but heavily slanted set they share.

“Supported by cello, piano and backing vocals by Ian Ross and James Gow, their wonderfully emotive songs are sung exquisitely in Yiddish, Russian and French throughout the 90-minute production.

“Online viewing doesn’t replace seeing shows in the flesh – there’s an inevitable loss of energy in an empty auditorium – but a virtual The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is still a massively welcome addition in these uncertain times and a reminder that the heady world of theatre, fantasy and story-telling is ready and waiting.

“But be quick because there has been a huge demand for tickets both in the UK and America for the live streams. Catch The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at 7pm today (Saturday) if you’re able, or on demand from December 11th -18th. Tickets available at http://oxfordplayhouse.com

NAOMI LANIGHAN

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