Steve Tanner

Emma Rice directs her own adaptation of Angela Carter’s 1991 novel Wise Children, performed by a new touring company of the same name.

Wise Children tells the story of Nora and Dora Chance, illegitimate twins of wealthy, elderly thespian Sir Melchior Hazard who has never acknowledged his daughters. They are surprised – and understandably incredulous – to receive an invitation to their father’s 100th birthday and, whilst getting ready to attend the party, they impart their preposterous life stories. Cue two-and-a-half hours of riotous fun, performed by a hugely talented cast.

Right from the start it feels like a wonderfully absorbing experience – the stage is alive as soon as the house opens, with actors fixing the fixtures and fittings and generally tidying up. Throughout the show the fourth wall is regularly broken, with the actors speaking and singing directly to us. Without going as far as audience participation, we felt completely involved with – and absorbed in – the action throughout.

We really appreciated how fluid the production was, too. The timeline is complex – while it is set in Brixton in the late 1980s, the narrative hops around at regular intervals, taking in the majority of the 20th century in order to give a full insight into what has made these 75-year-olds into who they are today. This allows for plenty of fluidity, with actors changing gender, ethnicity and age throughout, which is used thoughtfully and wittily to great effect.

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There are numerous musical highlights throughout. While there are far too many to name them all, we particularly enjoyed an energetic rendition of Electric Avenue as the twins hit the Brixton market to shop for party outfits for their father’s birthday. It’s expertly choreographed and a real feel-good moment within the performance.

The key moments of Carter’s prose remain intact, too. Again, there are several highlights, although we particularly enjoyed her observation of the gentrification of south London as “diaspora of the affluent”. The quip about comedy being “a tragedy that happens to other people” elicited a sizeable laugh as well.

It’s difficult to find fault with this production. We felt that the opening act maybe took a little longer than expected to reveal its true magic, and there were a couple of punchlines which didn’t quite land as they should have. But these are incredibly minor complaints which are easily overlooked in the grand scheme of what is a magnificent show.

Wise Children is absolutely worth checking out; it’s a genuinely magical adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel. Provocative, subversive, full of scandal and sleaze, it’s a wonderfully balanced show with huge laughs and melancholy moments, which is enjoyably bonkers throughout. Mesmerising stuff.

Gay Times gives Wise Children – ★★★★★

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