Attending the Storyhouse with no prior knowledge of the plot or what to expect, this show simply blew us away. Based on the book by Angela Carter , Wise Children has been adapted and directed by Emma Rice, recently the artistic director at Shakespeare Globe. The show opened in London last year and is now touring.
From their home in Brixton, twin sisters and ex showgirls Nora and Dora Chance , tell the story of their lives on the occasion of their 75th birthday, flashing back from 1989 through the World Wars and beyond. The twins recount their childhood, their longing for their absent father Shakespearean ac-tor Melchior , and their relationship with their surrogate parents, the colourful sweary Grandma and uncle Peregrine. The sisters narrate the story, interacting with other actors who play the twins at earlier points in their lives, with the fast pace aided by the smooth transitions from scene to scene and actor to actor. Frequently characters switch gender and race as the story flows, and the gender fluidity is reflected in the androgynous chorus members. Omari Douglas stands out as a very convincing showgirl Nora, and opposite Gareth Snook gets many laughs as the 1989 version of Dora. Katy Owen was very impressive as foul mouthed Grandma Chance, including some fun comedy nudism.
As to be expected in a musical the cast frequently burst into song with several classic show songs from the golden age of the theatre carrying you along, including “Lets face the music and dance” and “The Way you look tonight”. In the second half we are treated to the Brixton anthem “Electric Avenue”
There are plenty of theatrical references with PT Barnum, Lewis Carroll and Shakespeare all referred to , as well as a show stealing Brighton Pier comic played by Paul Hunter who seemed to be channelling the late Ken Dodd. Shakespearean themes run throughout the narrative with many themes reflections of the Great Bard’s plays.
The twists and turns of the sisters lives, reflected by the bittersweet narration of the aged, but now wise, Chance sisters, include a suicide, miscarriage and love triangles as the complicated web builds and more characters are introduced. There is a dark twist towards the end which will make you question some of the earlier events, and the story builds to a moving conclusion as past and present collide once again. As all of the actors portraying Nora and Dora gather on stage, fragmented by the passage of time and yet the same, we are left to reflect on the flow of memories and how the past can never truly be escaped from. The show closes with a sweet family singalong to Cyndi Lauper’s: “Girls Just want to have fun”. The cast were given a standing ovation. Wise Children is a stirring love letter to the concepts of theatre and family which works on multiple levels and was a joy to watch.