Touring – reviewed at HOME, Manchester
Guest reviewer: Elise Gallagher
Wise Children is the ultimate love letter to theatre. Complete with stars, spotlights, showgirls and Shakespeare – this is a spectacle to behold.
The date is 23 April, the Bard’s birthday, but more importantly, it’s the 70th birthday of Dora and Nora Chance – living together ‘on the wrong side of the river’. Meanwhile, there’s another birthday party taking place on the other side of the river, that of the greatest actor of his generation, Melchior Hazard – who also happens to be the Chances’ father; or is he?
Wise Children is an explosion of sheer theatrical joy – celebrating all things showbusiness, family, fame, and forgiveness, but ultimately hope. With the highs of the narrative, there’s an equal share of desperate lows – death, deceit and vulnerability.
Angela Carter’s 1991 novel, illustrating a dynasty of theatrical royalty, meets its match in artistic director Emma Rice – who was formerly the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. Rice’s vision brings the work to life, taking up every inch of the stage and choreographed to the second. Amongst the plethora of theatrical spectacles, Rice also adds puppetry into the mix, adding yet again, another dimension to the narrative.
It’s hard to pinpoint individual cast members performances as I adored them all. Sam Archer and Ankur Bahl were fantastic as feuding adolescent brothers. I especially loved the showgirl-era Nora and Dora, portrayed by Omari Douglas and Melissa James, who found real balance in their performances as teenage girls, high on success and stardom, but also as two very vulnerable and curious girls trying to make sense of it all. The two were sensational.
Mike Shepherd and Paul Hunter made the night’s perfect comedy double act, particularly as the show’s stagehands. Shepherd was actually sweeping the stage and adjusting one of the bulbs on the show’s starrily lit signs above the floor. Gareth Snook (Dora Chance) and Etta Murfitt (Nora Chance) made fantastic sisters, bouncing off one another with their memories.
Katy Owen as Grandma Chance completely stole the show for me. A true matriarch, complete with a purple beehive, diamante nipples, and quick wit, she was a highlight of the show for me.
It’s also important to note that this show is held together by an array of music, all of which is performed impeccably by the on-stage band (led by Ian Ross) who weave in and out of the chorus. Patrycja Kujawska, a central member of the cast, also provided musical support with her violin, whilst juggling her three other roles seamlessly.
I’d be interested to find a theatre lover who doesn’t love this show – it really has everything you’re looking for in a performance.