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Review: Wise Children

Angela Carter's novel adapted for the stage at the Bristol Old Vic is a dazzling, joyous, life-affirming jewel of a show

Wise Children, adapted from Angela Carter’s novel about the all-singing all-dancing illegitimate twins of theatrical royalty, is Emma Rice’s first play with her newly established, Bristol-based theatre company (also called Wise Children). And what an entrance it makes.

The audience are in the hands of the 75-year-old twins Nora and Dora, on their birthday, getting ready to attend a party hosted by the father who never openly acknowledged them – the mighty Melchior Hazard.

Melissa James and Omari Douglas as Dora and Nora

Paul Hunter as Melchior Hazard

Before they make the journey from ‘wrong side of the tracks’ Brixton to their father’s Sloane Square party, they tell us their life story, starting right back at the conception of their parents. And so begins a story of love, rivalry, illegitimacy, and – above all else – showbiz.

Katy Owen as Grandma Chance

Perhaps the strongest aspect of this brilliant production is its playfulness with the very idea of performance and theatre: its characters are desperate to play Shakespearean heroes, often quoting lines from plays in the middle of their own family dramas, which are then hilariously and verbally footnoted and finished with a bow.

They are performers both on and off-stage, living lives wedded to glamour and glitz – but this is never trivialized or belittled: twice in the play, all characters on stage chant in unison, ‘what a joy it is to dance and sing’: there is salvation and hope in performance: both for the characters on stage, but also for the wider audience, a point made subtly and invitingly by Carter and Rice.

Omari Douglas, Ankur Bahl, Melissa James

To single out any one player on this stage would be to disregard the genius of the ensemble: each and every character is realised with a delicious mix of reverence and cheek; and if they’re not acting and dancing, they’re acting and playing a harp, or acting and bending over backwards (literally).

Melissa James and Omari Douglas as Dora and Nora

The immense talent of the company is showed off magnificently in Vicki Mortimer’s set and Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting, which cleverly integrates the aesthetic of the beautifully-renovated Bristol Old Vic, doing so much with colour and a cute little caravan.

I can’t help but think the play’s high exuberance could only come from a company where Emma Rice has true artistic control: it is a labour of love that is not lost on the audience (sorry Shakespeare, and, for that matter, Shakespeare’s Globe).

A truly magical evening.

Omari Douglas as Nora


Wise Children is on at the Bristol Old Vic until Sat 16 Feb. Tickets from £11.50. Suitable 14+

Bristol Old Vic, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ED. Box office 0117 9877877


Words: Alex Sayers. Photos: Steve Tanner

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