Thursday 24 August 2017

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk at the Traverse, or, That's Real Theatrical Magic

I booked for this show because I was curious to see something directed by Emma Rice after the recent controversy over her Globe tenure. It turned out to be one of the best pieces of theatre I've seen in Edinburgh this August.

Daniel Jamieson's script chronicles the married life of Marc and Bella Chagall from the Jewish community in Vitebsk (Russia) where they both grow up through the upheaval of wars and revolution to exile in the United States. Apart from the framing device, subtly done, this is a refreshingly straightforward chronological narrative. It is also worth noting that, although the couple are the central focus, subtle reminders are also conveyed about larger issues - effects of censorship, prejudice and exile in particular.

Visually this show, designed by Sophia Crist supported by Malcolm Rippeth (lighting) is an absolute joy. Clever use of colour, ropes, trapdoors, props transports us steadily through the Chagalls different worlds. Among a host of delights I would single out the brilliantly done wedding scene, the little train that chugs out from beneath the set, and the haunting pairs of shoes set out, on by one, towards the conclusion. It's such a pleasure to see a show where set and performers are so carefully integrated, and where such care has been taken about every little detail.

Also making an enormous contribution to the atmosphere of the piece are Composer and Music Director Ian Ross and fellow musician James Gow, supported by Simon Baker's sound design. Indeed this is at the very least a play with songs, and might almost be better classified as a piece of musical theatre. Ross and Gow participate actively in the flowing staging and again that integration adds to the magic of the piece.

The two performers, Marc Antolin (Marc) and Audrey Brisson (Bella) have a lovely chemistry making this viewer at least completely believe in their love and its tribulations – perhaps nowhere more so than in the final scene which brought tears to my eyes. Emma Rice and Etta Murfitt's choreography makes effective use of Brisson's acrobatic training but the latter is just one of those performers who draws the eye both through the beauty and energy of her movement and her marvellously expressive face. Brisson is due to appear in the upcoming NT Pinocchio – a strong advertisement for buying a ticket. Reading Antolin's biography I've clearly seen shows he's appeared in, but I don't strongly recall those performances. His performance here is very fine, he can be egotistical, forgetful of his wife and the fear when, on several of those occasions, he suddenly realises what he might be losing was powerfully done.

As director Emma Rice binds all these elements together into an utterly magical whole, and I shall definitely be putting her on my list of people of whose work I want to see more.

This is a reminder of just how magical theatre can be. The remainder of the run is sold out so I can only advise you to queue for returns. I also came away thinking that the Traverse should somehow find Fergus Linehan a complimentary ticket - he needs a reminder of these theatrical qualities.

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