Wise Children, written by Angela Carter and directed by Emma Rice is a play with some songs about Nora and Dora, two twin sisters, raised by a grandmother (Katy Owen) because their father, Melchior (Ankur Bahl) abandoned them and their mother died after birth.
We see the Young Nora (Mirabelle Gremaud) and the Young Dora (Bettrys Jones) grow up and work in theatre as Showgirl Nora (Omari Douglas) and Showgirl Dora (Melissa James) and then become two old women (Nora played by Etta Murfitt and Dora by Gareth Snook).
Wise children is a tender and honest play that shows all the love Emma Rice has for the theatre. It is diligently directed with a good use of the space and lights.
It is an original, joyful and sad (at the same time), visually satisfying story. The problem is the plot. It is repetitive and weak, with an unsettlingly eccentric cast of colourful characters following the same dynamics. The legitimate children are not always seen as respectable and don’t like, nor seem to love, their father; whereas Nora and Dora are constantly trying to be recognised by their father and become included in the family that they are rejected from. Some of the characters provoke smiles, but they are all more caricatures than realistic persons so it becomes a bit wearing very quickly.
Even if there are lots of themes hidden in this show - incest, carnivalesque, illegitimacy versus legitimacy - there is a lack of substance, and the odd narrative - especially in the long second act – ends in an implausible finale (the arrival of two new twins on the notes of Girls just want to have fun).
Wise children is an extravagant and enjoyable play (especially if you like farce), but lacks of the magical perfection of Romantics Anonymous, last year’s Emma Rice’s masterpiece.
Wise Children is at The Old Vic until 10 November
Photos: Steve Tanner