Wise Children at Richmond Theatre
Wise Children is the eponymous first production from a new company formed by the writer and director of the show and former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice. It is an adaptation of an Angela Carter book that depicts the eventful and tragic lives of twin showgirls Dora and Nora Chance.
Gareth Snook’s Dora Chance, brimming with Vaudeville bawdiness, narrates the story as the twins reminisce on their 75th birthday. Emma Rice plays Nora and together they talk to their memories as the 12-strong cast whirls through the years.
Vicki Mortimer’s set and costumes are a visual feast that reflect the grubby glamour of the story. Industrious use of a revolving caravan evokes many different settings. The costumes are also cleverly thought through: the older twins’ kimonos are lined in a faded peach, whereas when they are show girls, they are a visceral red. The jazz-hands chorus opens the performance decked in an array of raspberry, pistachio and periwinkle berets, which is pleasing in its old-school musical feel.
The tone is set with a rendition of There May Be Trouble Ahead, revisited later. “Let’s face the music and dance” is a central theme: the piece is a celebration of the catharsis of singing and dancing, no matter what.
Wise Children is a musical put through a David Lynch blender with a sprinkle of Bet Lynch. There are acrobatics, gender bending and lewd humour. It’s doubtful the illustrious environs of Richmond Theatre have ever witnessed so much dry humping. At the press evening’s interval, the audience exploded into unnerved and invigorated chatter, not knowing quite what had hit it, with someone commenting: “It’s theatre, but not as we know it.” Indeed, the two-and-half hour show owes as much to what one might find in the outposts of Glastonbury as to traditional theatre.
The entire cast is faultlessly committed. Mirabelle Gremaud’s acrobatics and singing voice are especial highlights, her sultry take of Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby under a languid disco ball is particularly striking. Omari Douglas and Melissa James are mesmerising as the show girl twins. Katy Owen’s Grandma Chance, in surreal lilac bun and with incorrigible fake breasts, popping out with perfect comic timing, is an audience favourite.
The wordplay plays homage to the source material: “Champagne to all of us, real pain to all the other bastards!” The piece is an examination of trauma; there is a shocking depiction of a miscarriage, and we witness loss throughout. The play ends with a revelation that puts the whole story in a new, unnerving light. Despite this, the cast ends with Girls Just Want to Have Fun for a surprisingly moving finish that creeps up on the viewer; the show will have a memorable effect.
Under the twisted glitter, Wise Children is an emotional experience, a joyous paean to community, camaraderie, the resilience and artifice of womanhood. Wonkily brilliant.
Photo: Steve Tanner
Wise Children is at Richmond Theatre from 26th until 30th March 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.