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The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk review at Wilton’s Music Hall, London – ‘gorgeous, intimate and moving’

Daisy Maywood and Marc Antolin in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at Wilton's Music Hall, London Daisy Maywood and Marc Antolin in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at Wilton's Music Hall, London

Images of flying lovers run through Emma Rice’s work. They crop up again and again, in Nights at the Circus, in Romantics Anonymous. In Rice’s work love can be as destabilising as it is uplifting. It can knock you off your feet.

Based on the life of Marc Chagall and his wife, Bella, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk was first performed over 25 years ago. Then called Birthday, it originally starred Rice as Bella opposite writer Daniel Jamieson as Marc. Rice revisited the play for Bristol Old Vic in 2016, and this is the version that’s now heading out on tour.

Sophia Clist’s climbing frame of a set, with its sloping floor, gives their world a skewed, slanted quality. Bella and Marc’s story plays out in the early decades of the 20th century, against a backdrop of war and revolution and the devastation of their hometown. Nothing is steady or certain.

Marc Antolin, returning as Chagall, is charming and clown-like. But there’s also a streak of arrogance to him – he even compares the pain of his creative process to the pain of childbirth. Daisy Maywood – replacing Audrey Brisson – brings a new energy to Bella and her frustration at not being to able to make full use of her education is palpable.

Rice’s production cleverly and delicately incorporates imagery and motifs from Chagall’s paintings: livestock in rainbow shades, rabbis and fiddlers. The world of the Chagalls would bleed into the Kneehigh aesthetic over time. Here it is woven into an intimate and tender production about art, love and their entanglement.

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Gorgeous touring production of Emma Rice’s intimate and moving exploration of art and love