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.

Theatre review – The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve TannerEvery love affair has the potential for greatness, but only a select few achieve this, and fewer still have the spirit of their passions captured on canvas for all the world to see for eternity.

Many of Marc Chagall’s exuberant paintings featured himself and his first wife, Bella, often with Bella taking flight as though in joy. In Kneehigh and Bristol Old Vic’s vivacious production, written by Daniel Jamieson, the couple’s love affair and life is displayed in wondrous technicolour, with lighting, sound, an inventive set, dance and song all playing a role. As director Emma Rice says in the teaser video on the Bristol Old Vic website: “I’m finding the whole piece is like painting a picture. It’s like we’ve got a palette of things and we’re mixing our colours and mixing our ideas, and making a new art form.”

Audrey Brisson in Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve Tanner

Performed with boundless energy by Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson, we witness the pair’s first meeting and follow them through the years that follow, as they explore their love, face some of the darkest times in recent Russian and European history, and eventually make it to the United States.

Music director and composer Ian Ross
 and musician James Gow ensure the stage always feels full, even when populated by a lone actor. The wedding is a particular comic joy, beginning with Bella strolling the stage greeting guests we cannot see and admitting time and again, “Yes, yes he is a Jewish painter,” and enduring the uninvited sympathy of her relatives on one of the happiest days of her life.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

Ian Ross has mined the traditional, classical and “the Rusco Romany element of folk music in Russia” to imbue scenes with atmosphere, while lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth shifts moods with an injection of colour entirely in keeping with Chagall’s paintings. The screen at the back of the stage that captures these colours also serves to show the shadowy figures of anyone standing and dancing behind it, adding another enticing layer to the texture of the show.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk_credit Steve Tanner

There are countless moments of laugh aloud humour, thanks largely to the physicality of the two actors, but also heart-breakingly tender scenes, as when Chagall is battling depression and Bella does her best to draw him out of it, and later, when Bella is taken ill.

Marc Antolin as Marc Chagall and Audrey Brisson as Bella Chagall in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk - Photo by Steve TannerSome of their darkest moments are barely touched upon however, such as their arrest and escape during World War II, when the Jewish population of their hometown, Vitebsk, has already been eradicated. At times, details like these are mentioned by a character, almost in passing, but with so much beauty and interest present on stage, the emphasis is on enjoyment – dwelling too much on the bleakness would create an entirely different play. As Audrey Brisson says: “You don’t get to see the whole thing, but you get this beautiful arch through the story.”

I fell for the art of Chagall when I visited the Marc Chagall/Dario Fo exhibition in Brescia last year, and now feel I have fallen in love all over again. Emma Rice and her team have more than done his extraordinary talent justice and brought to exquisite life one of the artworld’s greatest duos.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk is on at Bristol Old Vic until 11 June 2016. Find details and buy tickets here.

All images by Steve Tanner.

Writer Daniel Jamieson
Director 
Emma Rice Assistant Director Matt Harrison
Composer and Music Director 
Ian Ross Musician James Gow
Designer Sophia Clist Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth
Sound Designer Simon Baker
Choreographer Etta Murfitt
Marc Chagall Marc Antolin Bella Chagall Audrey Brisson

I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.