Tag Archives: Kneehigh

“The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk” at Wilton’s Music Hall

It’s a delight that this early work from director Emma Rice and writer Daniel Jamieson has been revived and returns to London as part of a tour. Telling the tale of Bella and Marc Chagall, it’s a romance made blissful to watch by its combination of music, movement and imagery. Inspired by Marc’s paintings, flight is used a metaphor for love and applying this to the stage makes the show sky high with beauty, passion and emotion.

The performers are Marc Antolin and Daisy Maywood, who play the couple throughout their lives, as well as incidental characters along the way. Joined by multi-talented musicians James Gow and the show’s composer Ian Ross – whose music is integral to the piece – the singing is divine. The movement the piece demands, with choreography from Rice and Etta Murfitt, emphasises the trust actors and lovers have to have in one another and is a marvel: every limb performs, every action is considered.

From the start, Marc and Bella’s love at first sight is captivating. But their marriage is never free of tension. Chagall fell for his role as a genius early, it seems, and Bella suffered. It’s one of many triumphs that this formidable woman gets her side of the story told: it’s 50/50 all the way, with no trace of Bella a victim. Marc published his wife’s writing after her death, and admits that she could have been “hidden” by history. But not under Rice’s watch!

The past and memory are continually evoked as the Chagall story mirrors the momentous events of the Russian Revolution and World War II. The result is a portrayal of Jewish life as sensitive as Chagall’s own work, full of warmth, humour and, of course, the tragedy of anti-Semitism never far away. A scene where our wandering couple unpack their bags as they discuss the Holocaust uses the powerful symbolism of books and shoes in a breathtakingly simple manner.

What really elevates The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is that Rice and Jamieson have created a uniquely theatrical experience that celebrates the power of make-believe. Highlighted by Bella’s own interest in the stage (which includes Marc’s assumption that she can’t work as she is a mother), imagination is the key to their love and the show. The invention that Rice employs is full of touches that have become her trademarks: the use of costume, and simple props that add humour, with cheeky nods to the mechanics of production. All engender a complicity with the audience that makes a crowd soar all the way through this show.

Until 10 February 2018, then on tour

www.kneehigh.co.uk

Photo by Steve Tanner

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice’s first production as artistic director at the Globe has provided controversy for the much-loved venue and tourist hotspot. Fans of Rice’s work with her previous company, Kneehigh, will recognise some techniques here. But applied to Shakespeare, her irreverence and inventiveness proves invigorating.

First a caution – for some odd folk – this approaches Dream: The Musical. No excuse necessary, but it is striking how much of the play is sung. Stu Barker’s score is accomplished, dramaturg Tanika Gupta’s lyrics (drawing on the Sonnets and John Donne) are exciting and the singing West End standard. There’s a clever Indian twist and an electric sitar, so let’s describe the sound as Bollywood Rock. Is Rice being provoking? I do hope so.

Raucous is de rigueur at the Globe but, for good or ill, Rice has upped the stakes. If it weren’t for fear of sounding hopelessly out of touch I’d suggest some age advisory warning. There were squeals of horror in the crowd at some pretty full-on audience participation.

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Zubin Varla and Meow Meow

The show is sexy – many clothes are shed – and the polymorphous sexuality in Shakespeare is emboldened. Most impressively, with the King and Queen roles played by Zubin Varla and cabaret star Meow Meow – both intense performers –their chemistry is captivating. We’re reminded how creepy Titania being “enamoured of an ass” really is and both stars hold the stage, despite too much going on.

There are reservations. When Beyoncé is first quoted, your heart might sink at such an easy appeal to a younger audience. There’s a great deal of movement and some of it is messy. With water pistols, crazy costumes and a lot of accents, it’s anything for a lark. And the problem? Too many lines are difficult to hear, even lost. Rice lands the laughs, but they often fall at the expense of Shakespeare or, more generously, use the play as merely a springboard.

The hyped gender-bending casting (which is hardly new) may have been seen before, but not with the bite that Rice manages. Katy Owen does a superb job as Puck, working the crowd brilliantly, despite that water pistol. The rude mechanicals are recast as women. Only Bottom remains male – Ewan Wardrop doing the guys proud. Updating the wannabe theatricals into Globe volunteers is sweet and leads to excellent cameos, especially for Lucy Thackeray, whose calm ad lib, “my nephew’s gay”, tickled me pink.

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Ncuti Gatwa and Ankur Bahl

But it’s most with the Athenian lovers that Rice’s indiscretions are forgiven. Updating the couples into Hoxton hipsters is very funny. Ncuti Gatwa and Edmund Derrington make an energetic Demetrius and Lysander. Anjana Vasan gets roars of approval for her very modern Hermia. Ankur Bahl plays –hold on – Helenus, with wit and courage. There’s more to this decision than giving the line “ugly as a bear” a new twist. An uncomfortable response from some, admittedly young, audience members gives pause for thought. The Globe is a global institution (listen to how many visitors are from abroad). To see love between two men portrayed with complexity on such a stage is remarkable. There may be touches of over enthusiasm here but Rice balances public appeal with a radical streak that makes this show, and her direction, one of the most exciting things around.

Until 11 September 2016

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Steve Tanner