Tuesday, 30 January 2018

REVIEW: The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at Wilton's Music Hall

Picturesque visuals and evocative lighting offer a vivid portrayal of early modernist painter Marc Chagall (Marc Antolin) and his wife, Yiddish writer Bella Rosenfeld (Daisy Maywood). A white canvas, fragmented like the artist's famous stained windows, is used as a background for the gentle brushstrokes that, in the form of brightly coloured floodlights, are superimposed to create striking tableaux vivants.

The couple feature the same characteristic outfits of the many paintings where they're shown flying above fields and houses, propelled by a whirlwind love. A bright green blouse, worn over black trousers and white spats, and a floating black dress, adorned with white collar and cuffs.

Defying gravity, a sloped stage is surmounted by gnarled bare logs, from which hang ropes, flower pots, a small bell and a pendulum. The space is overloaded with props that pay tribute to the artist's most recognisable artworks, like a green cow and a colourful cockerel.

Born within a Jewish family in the former Russian Empire, Chagall is depicted as a dreamer and a ground-breaking visionary, equally devoted to his art, as well as to his wife, but often too distracted to provide for her most mundane necessities. Moved by burning love and engaged in a relentless fight against history, his profile is a chiaroscuro scarred by the disregard of his home country and the sudden loss of his adored Bella. 

After witnessing the lovers' first encounter at a friend's house and their wedding, we are called to follow them across war-torn Europe and America, in their escape from racial persecution. The journey is rich with romantic choreographies, animated by an overwhelming passion and various shades of pain. 

Both Antolin and Maywood deliver unforgettable performances, with the former, in particular, displaying a remarkable range of top-notch skills. Conferring a natural cuteness to the character, he offers delightful singing, amusing clownish sketches and leaves us breathless with some stunning acrobatic duos. 

Cherry on the top of an extraordinary theatrical achievement, the live score
played on stage by James Gow and musical director Ian Ross regales some vibrant polyphonic choirs and traditional Klezmer chants, which celebrate the Eastern European Jewish folklore. 

Written in the 1990s by Daniel Jamieson and initially performed together with his then wife-to-be Emma Rice, The Flying Lover of Vitebsk is an immortal act of tenderness and despair that gently blends a number of artforms and inevitably moves the audience to tears. Now under Rice's direction, the piece is revived for a long tour, which started at the iconic Wilton's Music Hall, before transferring to the United States. Do not miss it for anything in the world.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★★
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