Wise Children At York Theatre Royal
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
To see this unmissable production, at York Theatre Royal, is to experience a great whelming up of sheer exultation. This is both the pure essence and the very embodiment of the theatre lover’s love of theatre – an all-singing, all-dancing, intensely physically beautiful and overpowering tour de force.
Emma Rice, founder of the company Wise Children, says of her show, coincidentally, Wise Children, based on the novel of the same name by arch-Feminist Angela Carter: ‘It is a love letter to theatre … ’
She should know having now fulfilled the long-held ambition to adapt the book and direct the production – after many years doing all things with Kneehigh, that ever resourceful, imaginative and irreverent Cornish touring troupe, and working, more augustly, as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe.
What she fashions here, crafts and gives birth to, working with a huge cast of multi-talented actors, dancers, singers, musicians, telling a story of innocence and experience that spans three-quarters of a century, is quite staggering, simply breathtaking.
The story is mostly narrated by twin sisters, seventy-five-year old former hoofers, who in their teens were The Lucky Chances. The trigger for their bewilderingly bawdy reminiscences is to have been invited to the hundredth birthday party of knight of the theatre Sir Melchior Hazard, whom they take to be their natural father even though he has never acknowledged them.
Gareth Snook drags it up with aplomb as Dora Chance, the more dominant sister, the one mostly charged with delivering wittily Carter’s deathless prose. Etta Murfitt quietly excels as the more lady-like Nora.
It is their story but it is also a chronicle of a large slice of twentieth-century theatrical entertainment, of the classical, variety, cabaret kinds, full of jazzy tunes and Shakespearean references, sparkling with rhinestone glitter and positively reeking of grease pain.
It even somehow manages to work in a glorious stand-up routine straight from the Blue Book of the greatest of comedians, Max Miller, who is thinly disguised as Gorgeous George, an end-of the pier artist at Brighton, larger than life as played by the redoutable Paul Hunter.
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His brother Peregrine, a garish figure flitting in and out as elusively as the butterflies he collects, but who may not as battily innocent as he seems, is played, young and old, by the splendid Sam Archer and Mike Shepherd.
Kneehigh veteran Katy Owen is a rich comic turn in her own right as Grandma Chance, bringing up the twins as her own, knocking sense into them, preparing them for the harsh world.
When all the plot lines are tied together, we get a sense of something almost epic in conception and then a denouement which totally takes us aback. Prepare to be delighted and shocked.
For a night of sheer crazy thought-provoking exuberance, this cannot be beaten. It was being filmed by Channel Four, whose cameras were everywhere, though not obtrusively, so this production will deservedly live on long after the run ends.
Wise Children is at York Theatre Royal until 16th March.
Wise Children At York Theatre Royal, 7th March 2019, 19:38 PM