THE Oxford Playhouse doesn’t let a little thing like not being able to host a full house of theatre goers put it off staging world class productions. Instead, it is bringing world-class drama to us in our own homes.

Today until Saturday, the Beaumont Street venue would have been welcoming Daniel Jamieson’s critically acclaimed The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk to its stage. But instead of making the journey into town, the cast will instead perform in the front rooms of ticket holders – virtually, of course.

The digital show, staged in conjunction with Kneehigh theatre company, Wise Children and the Bristol Old Vic, is directed by Emma Rice.

The production features Marc Antolin as the Belarusian Jewish artist Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as his first wife, the painter Bella Rosenfeld Chagall, and will be performed on stage at Bristol Old Vic and livestreamed to the audience.

Marc and Bella – the titular ‘flying lovers of Vitebsk’ – are immortalised as the picture of romance. But while on canvas they ‘flew’, in life they walked through some of the most devastating times in history.

Tom Morris, Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic, says: “The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is one of those very rare and very special shows that people just fall in love with.

“You go weak at the knees. You giggle. You weep. And very often people tell us they have never forgotten it. The show is shaded with the dark brutality of the mid-20th century, but the love at its heart feels so strong, courageous, and joyful that its beat can endure any hardship.

“Now, in the strange dark winter of 2020, again inspired by the trademark panache of Emma’s work, we are offering the show to global audiences that will reach from China to Kentucky and back home to Minsk.”

Mike Shepherd and Carl Grose said: “Kneehigh has enjoyed success with digital projects like our Walk with Me stories app and the Kneehigh Cookbook education site, but when it comes to productions, we’ve always struggled with how we’d present work online while staying faithful to the spontaneous, live element that’s so intrinsic to our work.

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“Seeing Romantics Anonymous made us both realise that it is possible, and that there is a very real need from audiences to experience live theatre, even if they can’t be there in person.

“We’re excited about developing this through working alongside Wise Children and Bristol Old Vic: collaboration is more vital than ever and we can’t wait to learn and explore together what live streaming means for the timeless story of Marc and Bella Chagall.”

Emma Rice said: “Following the heady success of our Romantics Anonymous live broadcast, we have decided to get straight back on the theatre horse and do it again!

“There are so few creative ‘wins’ in these topsy turvy times that we thought it would be rude not to create all the joy, community and employment that we can - and to do it as fast as we can.

“It is strange to find myself so exhilarated and energised by this new digital platform. I have devoted my life to the thrill of live experience and the celebration of the collective imagination – but as these precious things fade into memory, it is time to stray to pastures new.

“And, while nothing will ever replace the thrill of a night out at the theatre, live broadcast is a wonderful new adventure.

“Fresh, fun and intimate; it feels like we are flying on a motorcycle with nothing ahead of us.

“We are intoxicated as we learn new skills, build new teams and experience new triumphs!

“We are taking the utmost care to protect all of our valued team but all the preparation will all be worth it when, for one short week, we immerse ourselves in the spiritually intimate and genuinely moving, real life love story of Marc and Bella Chagall.”

The format is a product of necessity. But does Emma believe there’s a future for this kind of digital performance once theatres can return to normal?

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“Absolutely!” she says. “Even though we are not in the same space, this really is a live event.

“We get nervous like we would for an ‘ordinary’ theatre performance and feel the genuine excitement of an audience watching us live. But with the help of technology we can reach so many more people.

“We are able to broadcast internationally and to people who might otherwise not be able to make it to the theatre. We are excited to embrace this as part of our ongoing touring program, not as a replacement for our beloved theatre shows, but as an addition. Live broadcast smashes down the barriers of attendance, whether they are geographic, physical, cultural, emotional or financial. It’s a revelation!”

The show starts at 7.30pm and captioned and audio-described versions of the production are available. Tickets start at £16. Multiple viewers can snap up tickets for £31. Running time: 90 mins with no interval. Age Guide: 8+

Book online at the theatre website: