BRISTOL OLD VIC – 16 February 2019
WISE CHILDREN by Angela Carter adapted by Emma Rice
2 hours 45 minutes – 1 interval
Bristol Old Vic Box Office – 0117987 7877
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 24 JANUARY 2019
Sometimes a theatrical production stands out as one which is almost impossible to categorise. Emma Rice’s version of Angela Carter’s final novel, Wise Children, is a case in point. Having made the transfer from the London Old Vic after a very successful run there, the production now reaches Bristol amidst much expectation. With elements of musical, revue and even pantomime, this story of twins Dora and Nora and their eccentric theatrical family and life is quite something.
Rice has created a love letter to the theatre, a joyful confection of vignettes from the lives of the two sisters. It also explores the issues of how the theatrical world can be unstable, temporary and unfulfilling. Infidelity and legitimacy also provide central themes as Dora and Nora struggle to find their true heritage as they look back at their lives on their 75th Birthday.
The story takes us back through their birth, childhood and entry into the theatre world as performers. Throughout, the strong narrative is cemented by an array of wonderfully realised characters and splendid set pieces. The story is punctuated by re-worked songs and new compositions all put over by the excellent musicians – a number of the actors dart in and out of playing instruments – virtually the whole play is underscored. With dances and balletic movement throughout this is a very visually enjoyable show.
A revolving retro-caravan provides the focus of the set with its interior providing a number of locales it is set amidst a stage of theatrical motifs – ladders, a dressing table, lamps – WISE CHILDREN picked out in lights behind. Set and Costumes were wonderfully designed by Vicki Mortimer. Some wonderful puppets were so well manipulated by the cast that they really came to life.
The modern trend of ignoring the conventions of gender and ethnicity casting doesn’t always work – the recent production here of Twelfth Night being a case in point where it went hopelessly wrong – here, there is no such issue – the theatricality of the story seems to allow this more easily.
As the older Dora, Gareth Snook is just wonderful. Warm, funny, cheeky and comforting; from the off you know you are in safe hands. Etta Murfitt as Nora is a lovely foil – the two work so well together. Paul Rider gives an array of characters, making is first mark as the fruity Shakespearian actor Ranulph Hazard and Paul Hunter – also with a number of hats on – gives a splendid turn as stand-up comedian, Gorgeous George.
There was something of Catherine Tate’s ‘Nan’ in Katy Owen’s hilarious Grandma Chance and her naked suit seemed to have a life of its own. Sam Archer as Young Peregrine and Ankur Bahl as Young Melchior provided outstanding performances, both having great skill in movement. The Young Dora and Nora were given a vibrancy by Bettrys Jones and Mirabelle Gremaud (whose body must be made of rubber!). As the girls enter the theatre world as showgirls, so the roles were passed to Melissa James and Omari Douglas – superb, both of them – Douglas in particular has the longest legs I have seen in many a long year and his charisma was overbrimming. Patrycja Kujawska gave great elegance to the ill-fated Lady Atlanta – or just plain ‘Wheelchair’ as she became known.
Emma Rice has created a colourful, vibrant and charming world. It is a very funny piece much of the humour coming from the wild sexual antic on display. At the same time, not quite set in reality and yet very believable. Although I did feel that it began to run out of steam and flag in the second half, it cannot be denied that this is a wonderfully original and entertaining piece of theatre. Wise Children is the first production of Rice’s new production company, named after the production – it will be very exciting to see what happens in the future.
Wise Children is an outstanding new play – warm-hearted, touching and very funny. Glorious.
Sam Archer – Young Peregrine/Cassius Booth
Ankur Bahl – Young Melchior/Prinking Minx
Omari Douglas – Showgirl Nora
Mirabelle Gremaud – Young Nora/Pretty Kitty
Paul Hunter – Melchior Hazard/Gorgeous George
Melissa James – Showgirl Dora
Bettrys Jones – Young Dora/Estella Hazard/Saskia Hazard
Patrycja Kujawska – Wheelchair/Lady Atlanta/Blue-Eyed Boy
Etta Murfitt – Nora Chance
Katy Owen – Grandma Chance/Imogen Hazard
Paul Rider – Peregrine Hazard/Ranulph Hazard
Gareth Snook – Dora Chance
Stu Barker – Band
Alex Heane – Band
Ian Ross – Composer & Musical Director
Written & Directed by Emma Rice
Set & Costume Design – Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Design – Malcolm Rippeth
Sound & Video Design – Simon Baker
Choreography – Etta Murfitt
Puppetry Design – Lyndie Wright