STRAP YOURSELVES IN AS THE OLD VIC’S TOURING PRODUCTION OF WISE CHILDREN HITS THE STORYHOUSE. IT’S ONE HELL OF A RIDE, WRITES GERAINT PRICE
Like all diligent reviewers I read up in advance of seeing Wise Children to find out what to expect, alas I came away none the wiser. Thankfully all was revealed in the opening act. Dora and Nora Chance are septuagenarian twins living in Brixton looking back at their chequered career as showgirls. Meanwhile, north of the river, their father, Melchior Hazard, the greatest actor of his generation, reaches his centenary on the same day. As does his twin, Peregrine. Their interconnecting lives are told through flashbacks, comedy skits, musical hall routines, a bit of puppetry, oh, and cross-dressing. Still with me? No? Good. Just know it’s dazzling, rambunctious and very, very funny.
The central characters of Nora and Dora are portrayed at numerous pivotal stages of their lives: firstly as puppets, then as showgirls, and finally as 75-year-old cockney sparrers (played with aplomb by Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook).
The play is director Emma Rice’s first new show since she fell foul of the Globe Theatre’s board and found her tenure cut short after only two seasons.
This bawdy performance falls somewhere between a play and a musical, a tale of dichotomies: ageing and rebirth, the north and south of London, twins and their mirror images, men dressed as women and vice versa.
Underpinning this dizzying narrative is the link to Shakespeare, who coincidentally shares the two twins’ birthday; the script is littered with the Bard’s lines, delivered music-hall style. Author Angela Carter, who died in 1992, the year after the book was published, believed Shakespeare to be the “great popular entertainer of all time” whose legacy has been hijacked by thespians.
Among the many great lines some standouts include the cross-dressed Dora quipping to a male lover portrayed by a woman with a pencilled-on moustache: “It’s every woman’s tragedy that, after a certain age, she looks like a female impersonator.”
Unusually in a play, there was no single outstanding performance, which speaks volumes of Emma Rice’s casting.
My only complaint is too few will experience the joy of seeing it as the run finishes this Saturday.
If you’re still confused, just go watch it. You won’t be disappointed. Really.
Wise Children is at the Storyhouse until Saturday 23rd March. Tickets are available here.