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BWW Review: WISE CHILDREN, BBC Culture in Quarantine

BWW Review: WISE CHILDREN, BBC Culture in Quarantine

BWW Review: WISE CHILDREN, BBC Culture in QuarantineAfter a hugely successful debut in 2018 at London's Old Vic and a subsequent UK tour, Emma Rice's highly theatrical adaptation of Angela Carter's Wise Children is a welcome and absurdist addition to the BBC's Culture in Quarantine series, filmed at York Theatre Royal in 2019.

The show is a brilliantly creative and fast-paced story of the history of a theatrical dynasty hit by sexual adventure, illegitimacy and scandal. It is a whirlwind of Shakespeare, song, dance and vivid imagination bouncing from Victorian vaudeville theatre to modern-day Brixton in exuberant fashion.

We begin in a caravan, inhabited by 75-year-old twins Dora and Nora, illegitimate and ignored offspring of thespian Sir Melchior Hazard. As they prepare to celebrate their birthdays and that of their 100-year-old father, they relate the story of their history; their conception, the death of their mother, their upbringing by adoptive Grandma Chance and life on the stage, from child performers, to showgirls. Their lives feature mistaken identity, betrayal and pantomime violence, with flashes of brilliant and bawdy comedy.

As the older twins who narrate their tale, Etta Murfitt (who also expertly choreographs the show) is sweet as Nora and Gareth Snook's Dora is warm, knowing and full of camp innuendo.

Melissa James and Omari Douglas are wonderfully seductive as the younger Dora and Nora in their showgirl days, with an energy and exuberance that jumps off the screen.

Katy Owen's hilarious Grandma Chance has more than a hint of Catherine Tate's Nan in her demeanour and South London accent and is clearly having a ball with the role. Sam Archer is excellent as the young Peregrine, eccentric uncle to the girls, who struts around in yellow tartan trousers, determined to be a constant presence to his nieces in the absence of his aloof brother.

The incredibly energetic cast sing, dance, switch roles, animate puppets and change genders very fluidly. The puppetry of the twins as small children is particularly charming. On screen this production works especially well, as it allows access to much of the detail of Vicki Mortimer's clever design, which takes the audience from music halls, to Grandma's hostel and a variety of dressing rooms in between.

Wise Children is a difficult production to categorise; it features singing, but is not a musical, it sometimes feels like a pantomime, but is definitely not a show for children. What it certainly conveys is the sheer joy and romanticism of the theatre and the compulsion to perform that some people possess. Sex is frequent and comedic; there is a hint at sexual abuse that needs a little more exploration, but fairly graphic depictions of events such as a miscarriage remind the audience of the darkness that exists among the relentless energy of the show.

What endures is the charm and power of theatre. The production frequently sends itself up, but retains a powerful message of the need for enduring familial love and loyalty, especially between the twins themselves. Despite the many difficulties in their lives, they shun victimhood, emerging as resilient and strong women.

For those of you in mourning for the theatre, Wise Children could not be a more theatrical and joyful antidote.

Wise Children is available on the BBC iPlayer as part of their Culture in Quarantine series and will be shown on BBC Four soon

Photo Credit: Steve Tanner

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