Sunday, 5 June 2016

Review: Kneehigh Theatre, The Flying lovers of Vitebsk

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is the last thing to be directed for Cornish Company Kneehigh by acclaimed director Emma Rice, who is going on to be the Artistic Director at the Globe Theatre in London. This is a very well deserved promotion, since Rice has directed a few absolute corkers for Kneehigh, and in a theatre world which is as sexist as the movies, is probably Britain's foremost female theatre director. 

Kneehigh are also great, with or without Rice, and so I went along to this with pretty high expectations. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is about the painter Marc Chagall, and his wife Bella, both born in Vitebsk in Belarus, in what was then Imperial Russia. I knew very little about them, but it's a fascinating story with plenty of theatrical material to milk, passing through love-at-first-sight, a rich-girl/poor-boy wedding, World War One, the Russian Revolution, the artistic revolutions of expressionism and cubism, Paris in the 20s, World War Two, and a flight from occupied France.

However, I felt like all this, in a play, presented a bit of a problem. There were lots of 'explaining history to the audience' moments going on, and what felt like more speech directed at us, the audience, than between the characters. Kneehigh usually make ensemble pieces, with quite a few actors, but this had just two actors and two musicians, and I felt like there might have been less explaining if they'd splashed out on a couple of extra performers.

Apart from this, it's undeniably an enjoyable production, with lovely music and singing, and great dancing, especially from Audrey Brisson who played Bella. There isn't, despite the title, any flying: the title refers to Chagall's paintings.

One effect this production had is to make me want to see more of Chagall's art, so in that sense it could be called a success. Overall, a decent production, with lots of lovely moments, but I felt it was a bit let down by the script.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is at Bristol Old Vic until June 11th.

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