|Photo: Steve Tanner|
Emma Rice’s adaptation of former Bristolian Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children is quite easily my favourite show that I have seen at Bristol Old Vic in several years. It is faultless.
Bristol theatre goers will know director Emma Rice from her years of work with the wonderful Kneehigh Theatre Company (Tristan & Yseult, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Brief Encounters etc), and more recently her brief tenure at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. She has now launched her own theatre company, also called Wise Children, and this production of Angela Carter’s final book is their debut show. And what a way to make an entrance!
Everything about Wise Children is deliciously over the top. It is camp, musical and sensational. It is a delirious celebration of the theatre, of the spectacle and of that business called show. It is also holding a mirror up to the claim that actors like to make that the company they work with is all just one big happy family… except it often isn’t. Because at the heart of Wise Children are twin sisters Nora and Dora Chance, who have been deserted by their biological family but embraced by Grandma Chance who takes the orphaned babies to her heart and brings them up as her own. Sparking a degenerate family tree of adopted family connections.
Nora and Dora originally come from a big theatrical family. Their father Melchior Hazard (and his twin brother Peregrine Hazard) are both acclaimed actors. Their grandparents Estella and Ranulph Hazard were also actors, with Estella known for being the best Hamlet who ever graced the stage. This Victorian female Hamlet also hints at Wise Children’s fondness for characters switching sex, skin colour, age and anything else at the drop of a hat. Not to mention the adoration for Shakespeare himself that runs through the entire production. So it's no wonder that Nora and Dora also take to the stage.
In Emma Rice’s hands, Wise Children is an utterly joyous, colourful, spectacular show that will tickle all of your senses, as well as leave you a little horrified towards the end. With most of the cast slotting into a handful of roles, it is hard to single out a particular lead, which also gives the production a seamless flow. As showgirl-era Dora and Nora, Melissa James and Omari Douglas are inevitably fabulous; and as Grandma Chance, Katy Owen enjoys a delightfully silly role. And I always love Kneehigh stalwart Patrycja Kujawska, who only has relatively small parts in Wise Children but still manages to effortlessly capture your attention even when she is left of stage in the background of a scene.
Wise Children is an utterly magnificent production. I need to go and see it again. Soon.
You can read more about Angela Carter’s life in Bristol in my book The Women Who Built Bristol: Volume One.
Click here for more information about Wise Children and to buy tickets. Wise Children is performed at Bristol Old Vic until 16 February 2019, after which it continues its tour around the UK. Click here for tour details.