This show makes the heart stop. And start again, you’ll be relieved to know. It’s enchanting and exhilarating and marvellous and magical. And that’s just the opening scene.
Marc and Bella meet in Vitebsk. It’s a properly brief encounter, though she still has time to clock the shards of blue in his eyes. Then the aspiring painter has to catch a train to Paris, in the hopes of making his name. Bella sits at home and waits.
Four years later, on the eve of the First World War, Marc returns from Paris, having established his reputation and they marry. Based on a true story of modernist artist Chagall who lived through the democratic promise of the Russian Revolution and the struggle to reconcile the communist dream with any sort of reality, this is an endearing exploration of which matters more: art or life.
Occasionally, you see a show that’s a perfect package. Where the set is inventive and stylish and smart. Emma Rice‘s direction allows the story to breathe without ever straying into self-indulgence. The sound design is so artfully discrete that you barely notice it’s there in the best possible way. The costumes are gorgeous and thoughtful – matching braces when she’s being an actor and he’s trying to paint the town communist – and perfectly evocative of the characters and their mood. The music (all original?) is performed live on stage throughout by two talented and versatile musicians who crack through a piano, a double bass, various brass instruments with perfect composure and, on occasion, with a chicken on their head. The acting isn’t even acting – it’s just Marc and Bella, welcoming you to their wedding and you’re so very glad you could make it. There’s a whole array of stage trickery – the trunk that houses a cow, the shadow puppetry, actual puppetry, the almost aerial work, the incredibly physically adept performers. Oh, and they all sing too. And the overall package is an hour and a half of magic.
Kudos to Daniel Jamieson for writing an incredible script. Welsh actor (a salute to him for keeping his Welsh accent – we all know he’s pretending to be a Russian Jew) Marc Antolin is a floppy haired hopeful whose love for Bella is heart-stoppingly sweet and whose ambition is magnetically infuriating. And Audrey Brisson as Bella is the bright and funny and loyal and achingly lovely lover that everyone deserves to have waiting at home at the end of an insufferably dull 12 hours in the office.
Flying Lovers can bring on the tears for being both beautiful (the balloons, the colours, the confetti) and suffocatingly sad. For any sort of fan of a love story set amidst the sprawling heap of history, this one is top of its class.