Theatre review – Wise Children

Wise Children company, credit Steve Tanner (3)Vibrant, comical and moving, Wise Children at Bristol Old Vic is a joyfully dizzying swirl of an end-of-pier helter skelter with a vein of minty gravitas spiralling through the middle.

Etta Murfitt, Gareth Snook in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook as Nora and Dora Chance

We meet twin sisters Nora and Dora Chance (Etta Murfitt and Gareth Snook) as they prepare to celebrate their 35th birthday, then zip back through time to meet their paternal grandparents. Some theatrics, debauchery and a spot of violence orphans their father and his twin brother, and so a pattern is laid out for the sisters before they’re even born.

Bringing Angela Carter’s last novel to wriggling, whooping, high-kicking life is director Emma Rice, the creative whizz behind the enchanting The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, among others. The production is the first from Rice’s new theatre company, also named Wise Children, and it’s a fabulous indication of the treats to come.

Wise Children company1, credit Steve Tanner (2)

The small cast conjure a whole world, with earlier incarnations of the sisters and their fathers appearing throughout, sometimes as ghostly memories and other times in a change of costume as a lover, pier comic or stagehand. Gender is fluid, and morals even more so. The recommendation is that performances are best suited to ages 14 and up. Sex is portrayed with cartoonish vigour or fleeting tenderness, and education on this theme from Grandma Chance is accessorised by bagels and sticks of seaside rock.

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance

The youngest Nora and Dora (apart from Lyndie Wright’s puppets) are performed with boisterous wide-eyed enthusiasm by Mirabelle Gremaud and Bettrys Jones, while their showgirl personifications, played by Omari Douglas and Melissa James, exuded sex appeal and vulnerability in equal, overflowing measure.

Melissa James as Dora, Omari Douglas as Nora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner

Melissa James as Dora and Omari Douglas as Nora

 

Katy Owen is magnificent as the girls’ ever-tipsy, often unclothed (apart from golden nipple tassels) grandma, while the elder embodiments of their father and uncle, (Paul Hunter and Paul Rider) manage to smudge the bravado of their younger selves (Ankur Bahl and Sam Archer) into the wistful, somewhat melancholy humour of old age.

Bettrys Jones, Katy Owen, Mirabelle Gremaud in Wise Children1, credit Steve Tanner

Bettrys Jones as young Dora, Katy Owen as Grandma Chance and Mirabelle Gremaud as young Nora

The sisters long to be acknowledged by their father Melchior, who abandoned their pregnant mother, but settle instead for the intermittent adoration of his brother, Peregrine. Dashing and affectionate, young Peregrine is also the instigator of one of the production’s most chilling scenes.

Taking place in a moment of quiet between 13-year-old Dora (Bettrys Jones) and her uncle, while other action takes place around them, it’s skilfully handled enough that we questioned whether we’d really seen what we thought we’d seen – a unnerving parallel to the reality of such instances.

Melissa James as Showgirl Dora in Wise Children, credit Steve Tanner (2)

Laughter, song and dance coupled with the vivid set (including an ingenious turning caravan and some exquisite projected animation) plus enticing costumes by Vicki Mortimer keeps the tone on the right side of fun, but this dark core thread draws us towards the shadows beyond the glitz, if only for seconds at a time.

Wise Children is on at Bristol Old Vic until 16th February 2019. Find out more and book tickets. Production images by Steve Tanner.

Seen or read anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Book review – The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

The Magic Toyshop by Angela CarterAngela Carter’s riches-to-rags story reads like an exquisitely written fairytale in reverse. Beginning in the summer Melanie turns 15, when she is swooning with the romantic possibilities of her future and increasingly enamoured with her own blossoming beauty, things swiftly turn dark.

A borrowed wedding dress, an altercation with a cat and a midnight scramble up a tree spells the end of Melanie’s dreamtime as she and her younger siblings are packed off to live with their mother’s brother, an uncle they have never met.

Uncle Philip, the proprietor of a gloriously old-fashioned toyshop, has all the potential to be a wonderful guardian but is swiftly revealed to be the ogre lurking at the heart of Melanie’s childhood fairytales. Foul-mouthed and riddled through with violence, he doesn’t even bother to pick up the children from the train station when they arrive, instead dispatching his wife’s brothers to collect them.

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Enter the mind of Angela Carter

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

Author Angela Carter put her own twist on many traditional fairytales, as well as dreaming up her own unsettling stories that hark from ancient fables. In celebration of her askew imagination, the RWA is hosting Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, an exhibition of artworks inspired by her writing, as well as original cover art from her novels and more.

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

Eerie, beautiful, thought-provoking and discombobulating, the pieces on show include Marc Chagall, Paula Rego and some truly luscious works by Leonora Carrington, as well as plenty of others that seem selected to haunt your dreams and stir your imagination.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts of UWE, and the artist and writer Fiona Robinson. Among my favourites were works by the wonderfully macabre Heather Nevey (below), and an understatedly unnerving oil painting titled Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon.

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

Other highlights include the chance to see Angela Carter’s photos, pens and other artefacts. For me the best part of all, and the most alarming, was stepping through a curtain into a gallery populated by strange figures with outlandishly large egg-like heads, seated around a table where a naked, terrified man lay prostrate – an installation by Ana Maria Pacheco titled The Banquet.

Wonderfully, while some of these works were inspired by Carter’s fiction, others, such as Chagall’s work, helped to fuel her creativity, while others still sprang from similar ideas, proving what a rich conversation visual and written works can enjoy.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is on at RWA, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX until 19th March 2017.