Friday, 1 March 2019

REVIEW: Wise Children - HOME, Manchester

Bursting into life with song & dance, former showgirls Nora & Dora Chance relive each of their 89 years in this glorious romp that’s part Shakespeare part bawdy Music Hall act in the brand new stage adaptation of Angela Carter’s seminal novel, Wise Children.

An ambitious first production for the same-named company, the original text was always going to be an incredible undertaking to bring to the stage. Packed to the seams with no less than 4 pairs of twins among a lengthy cast of characters, the narrative jumps back and forth between the years with the whims of the narrators conversational style. So without a cheat-sheet to refer to (or the paper-back handy) it was an impressive feat from both the writer, the multi-rolling cast of 12, and an exceptionally talented live band, to seamlessly glide through almost 9 decades in one evening. With lightning fast costume changes boys played girls, girls played boys, uncles played fathers and the Shakespeare twitched in his coffin somewhere!

The set was a fitting spectacle of faded glamour inside Grandma Chance’s kitschy caravan amongst a horde of nostalgic memorabilia, and dressing room mirrors dotted the stage under fabulous glitzy show-lights. As the actors prepared onstage in a style reminiscent of Ariane Mnouchkin’s avant-garde stage ensemble, Theatre du Soleil, the show slowly wound into life as art mimicked life quite literally. The costumes were also a feast for the eyes, drawing each role into an affectionate caricature that ballooned their strengths and weakness much like in a pantomime but with so, so very many rhinestones!

Following the fortunes of these two parentless twin sisters as their joint star rose and fell in the world of showbiz, their past lives are full of fame, beauty and wealth. But despite every success they are recurrently drawn back to the innate desire to know and be publically acknowledged by their absent father. An established Shakespearean and feckless social climber, his abandonment and repeated exploitation throughout the play made him the perfect pantomime fop that we all love to hate! As a joyful examination of what love and family truly means this narrative is especially poignant in our current society of merged and chosen families and was incredibly moving. The almost slapstick comedy was a beautiful pairing with the tragic elements of betrayal – both delicately balanced to reveal sometimes painful truths.

Despite the gravity of their situation, dancing to keep the wolf from the door, the action whirled between stand-up comedy at the end of Brighton Pier, acrobatic displays of carnal-passion in eye wateringly comedic positions and some of the most fantastic Fosse dancing since Broadway’s Chicago. Hearty congratulations are due to the team as every talent in their arsenal was deployed to thrilling effect.

As a lover of the novel I did notice a few deviations, however they didn’t dilute the narrative so much as streamline it. The director, Emma Rice, is a self-proclaimed Carter acolyte which was evident throughout in this charmed and faithful retelling of an actors' lot. The creative team both onstage and behind the scenes includes several members and associates of renowned Cornish stage-royalty, Kneehigh, of whom Rice herself is a recurrent member. Such a tightly knitted theatre-family can only be a good omen and with such a tour de force as their first outing, we can only look forward to more bright glitter-bombs of the same.

For Shakespeare with a modern twist, some damn good heroines in no need of saving, and fantastic showmanship, this is a guaranteed good night out with something fabulous for everyone.

Reviewer - Natalie Bowers
on - 27/2/19

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