★★★★★ - Wise Children @ Bristol Old Vic

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By Amy Iles, third year Theatre & Performance studies

Director Emma Rice puts on a ★★★★★ adaptation of Angela Carter's Wise Children, with stunning choreography, gender-blind casting and strong ensemble work.

Emma Rice has reached her pinnacle. Emerging through Kneehigh and shunned at the Globe, she has finally found her feet in her own new theatre company - Wise Children - kicking off with a stellar show of the same name.

Angela Carter’s story lends itself perfectly to Rice’s theatrical storytelling style; a celebration of theatre, mixing Shakespeare and showgirls to glorious effect. The narrative follows the lives of Dora and Nora Chance, twin showgirls negotiating the tricky business of fathers, illegitimacy, sex and a life in theatre.

Rice’s blend of all aspects of the production are seamless and well balanced - never overwhelming the audience but giving enough spectacle to provide her signature brand of theatre magic. The versatile use of set and props create a multitude of universes on one stage, pinpointing poignant moments at various points in the girls’ lives whilst also filling the stage with larger-than-life songs and dances at different points in the narrative.

Credit must also go to musical director, Ian Ross, for these numbers, drawing upon well known tunes of different eras and genres which mirror the twin’s theatrical careers. Etta Murfitt’s choreography was equally stunning, every movement being meticulously planned and rehearsed. The cross-gender casting, which can often confuse the narrative, had no such problem here: the clever and vibrant costumes and wigs acted as signifiers of the multitude of characters covered by the versatile cast.

The ensemble was another phenomenon entirely. Rice’s cultivation of a close and innovative company was evident through their performance as a cohesive group. No individual member of the cast stood out but instead they worked entirely as a team to communicate the highs and lows of life on (and off) the stage. Each character had distinct individual quirks and theatrical flair and it was almost impossible to tell which characters were being played by the same actor.

Although Rice’s overtly theatrical style sometimes prevents a deeper emotional connection, it serves to highlight the essence of the play, reminding the audience of the wonders of theatre rather than its realism.

‘What a joy it is to dance and sing’ is the resounding message of this show, and what a joy it was to watch. Wise Children reflects all that Rice had learnt throughout her career as director and establishes her unique theatrical amalgamation of her influences.

Every element of the performance came together to produce an incredible story that was completely mesmerising. I, for one, will be keeping close tabs on this incredible new company, and am already eagerly anticipating their next production.

★★★★★

(Featured image credits: Bristol Old Vic / Wise Children)


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