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Theatre Review Stunning portrait of painter Chagall's turbulent life

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds/Touring

 

MARC CHAGALL frequently painted pictures of himself flying with his wife Bella Rosenfeld and, in Kneehigh’s tender depiction of their relationship, those images burst into 3D life.

 

Writer Daniel Jamieson in no way attempts to recreate Chagall’s work but his imagery and love of colour are infused across the crooked stage, held in place by a series of wooden poles.
 

The couple, their faces made up with pan-stick, appear with a cockerel and fish on their heads and the backdrop is frequently suffused with rainbow shades.

 

The language is just as vivid at evoking the richness of their feelings — “I keep tripping over your thoughts in my own head,” sighs Bella — while the two-piece live band conjure both Chagall’s work and geography with a combination of klezmer and folk that’s sung in Yiddish, Russian and French.

 

Playful and at times surreal, Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood create an insular intensity as they acrobatically tumble over and across one another. It's shot through with moments of humour and inventiveness — a friend’s flushed face is represented by a red balloon, newspaper headlines signal shifts in narrative time — and a back story of sadness and loss.

 

That poignancy is foretold in the opening scenes, which see an elderly Chagall reminiscing on the phone. By this stage he’s already lost Rosenfeld to a viral infection and has lived through world war one, the Russian revolution and seen his hometown of Vitebsk and much of its Jewish population decimated.

 

The pathos pathos is only sharpened by the creative sacrifices and sheer joy of their love, which Emma Rice’s choreography and direction brings to life with a blissful lightness of touch.

 

Tours until June 10, details: kneehigh.co.uk

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