YORK Theatre Royal’s co-production of Angela Carter’s Wise Children, made with Emma Rice’s company Wise Children and The Old Vic, is now available to stream on BBC iPlayer.
Adapted and directed by Rice, ever-innovative former artistic director of Cornish company Kneehigh Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the show marked the debut of her new Bristol company.
Wise Children was co-produced with The Old Vic, London, where the world premiere opened in 2018, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Oxford Playhouse and York Theatre Royal.
In March 2019, a performance of Rice’s exuberantly impish, musical vision of Carter’s last novel was filmed live at the York theatre with support from The Space.
The 138-minute play will be streamed for free for two months on BBC iPlayer as part Culture In Quarantine, the BBC’s arts and culture service to “keep the arts alive in people’s homes”. A screening on BBC 4 in May will be confirmed at a later date.
Billed as a big, bawdy tangle of theatrical joy and pain, Wise Children is a celebration of show business, family, forgiveness and hope as Nora and Dora Chance, twin chorus girls born and bred south of the river, celebrate their 70th birthday in Brixton.
Across the river in Chelsea, their father and greatest actor of his generation, Melchior Hazard, turns 100, on the same day. As does his twin brother Peregrine. If, in fact, he is still alive. And if, in truth, Melchior is their real father after all.
“When I set up Wise Children, I knew I would open with an adaptation of Wise Children after calling the company that name, presenting Angela Carter’s open love letter to theatre in all its aspects, its power and glories,” said Rice.
“I was a great fan of Angela Carter in my 20s. She has had a magical impact on people’s lives; she’s breath-taking in allowing the unimaginable to happen, so we fit together well!”
To create her adaptation, Rice read Carter’s novel, then wrote down the story or “what I remember of it”, she said. “I then started working on it with the actors, using their collective imaginations, so that they can pass on their own experiences in theatre.”
Rice has a track record for picking unconventional casts, typically so for Wise Children. “The actors I’m drawn to over and over again, and the way I tell stories, reflect how I always like to open up to diversity, expanding on my own experiences of humanity, especially in these polarised times, by looking at people who have had different experiences to your own,” she reasoned.
Against the 2019 backdrop of so much drabness, division, enmity and lost hope, Rice was determined to champion showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope. “They represent a lot of my life,” she said. “When I talk of family, I mean not only blood family, but how we connect as humans.”
Now, Rice is delighted that Wise Children is being streamed from this week on BBC iPlayer amid the Coronavirus lockdown. “I dreamt about adapting Angela Carter’s Wise Children for years before it became a reality, and, when I finally did make it, it was the first piece I made for my new company,” she says.
“It’s a show I carry deep in my heart; a love letter to theatre, to survival, to family and family of choice. When The Space commissioned us to film it for the BBC, I almost burst with pride!
“I delight in the fact that we now get to share this glorious story with so many others, and hope that the fun, truth, love and generosity poured into it will find its way into sitting rooms across the country.”
Reflecting on Wise Children being part of the BBC’s Culture In Quarantine programming, Rice says: “What feels even more perfect is that we’re releasing it now. Today, more than ever, we need joy, resilience, hope and love of life, which runs through the veins of Wise Children. As Nora and Dora Chance tell us: ‘What a joy it is to dance and sing!’. Never has this been more true. We hope you enjoy.”
Last September, Rice and Wise Children returned to York Theatre Royal for a second co-production, Enid Blyton’s “original post-war Girl Power story, the naughty, nostalgic and perfect for now” Malory Towers: her “happy Lord Of The Flies”, as Rice called it.
Wise Children and the Theatre Royal are to complete a hattrick of collaborations in 2021, this time in tandem with the National Theatre for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
Charles Hutchinson’s review of Wise Children at York Theatre Royal, March 2019. Copyright of The Press, York.
IMAGINE a Victorian vaudeville troupe or a circus travelling across Europe picking up performers, musicians, speciality acts, en route.
It would look not unlike Emma Rice’s new Wise Children company, set up since she left the artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe and more in keeping with her 20 years leading Cornish company Kneehigh.
Do not take it the wrong way when I say Rice’s Wise Children are a modern-day freak show, not in the overt manner of the Circus of Horrors, but in how Rice celebrates, liberates and embraces beauty in all forms: a message for this age of Brexit intolerance for “outsiders” and fashion magazine photo-shopped “perfection”.
Vicki Mortimer’s design echoes circus in its lighting, while the set is dominated by a caravan, again recalling travelling troupes in Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s last novel: a “celebration of showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope” that receives a big, bold, bouncy, exuberant, darkly imaginative, saucy interpretation.
Opening on the 75th birthday of The Lucky Chances, Brixton showgirl twins Nora and Dora Chance, Rice’s hyper-production jumps around in time to tell their life story.
On the way she employs puppetry; glorious live music; theatrical in-jokes; old Bob Monkhouse and Max Miller gags; Shakespeare quotes; much mischief making, scabrous scandal and mistaken identities; men playing women, women playing men, and multiple versions of the same character at different ages.
Fabulous show, fabulous performers, fabulous butterflies too.