HOME Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 28th February, 2019
April 1989, Brixton in south London – a.k.a. “the wrong side of the tracks”. 75-year-old twins and former chorus girls Nora and Dora Chance are off to a birthday party, a 100th birthday party for their father, a man who is very much on the right side of the tracks – the extravagant and flamboyant theatrical legend known as Melchior Hazard.
But the celebrations soon turn sour as the night transforms into a party like no other: three sets of twins from the same family lock horns over the unbearable tragedy of a mother being abandoned by her own children, and of children being cruelly abandoned by their father. The evening descends into a tempestuous muddle of emotional carnage, but for the Chance sisters it has been a long time coming – they may be 75 years old but finally Nora and Dora can be the children who got wise.
Adapted from the 1991 novel by writer and journalist Angela Carter, Wise Children is the epic staging of an extraordinary life story. Mostly delivered in the form of narration by Nora and Dora, the tortured saga of the Chance twins spans nearly a century of dysfunctional family conflict and turmoil.
The plot is almost too incredulous and long-winded to follow but, rather ironically, the performance is saved by the rapid pace of delivery, which is one of the key success factors of this show. The action comes thick and fast, it motors along in a high gear delivering satisfying blows of agreeable entertainment as it goes: births, deaths, West End debuts, war-time bombings, illicit affairs, paternal neglect, unforgivable betrayals, suggestions of incestuous sexual liaisons – the list just goes on and on.
Yet somehow Wise Children pushes all the right emotional buttons in all the right places – there is no time to dwell on any of it, for the full duration of this performance there is an urgent and pressing need to know what happens next.
As twist after twist unfurls in the outrageous plot, for fully two hours a carnival-like cabaret act is played out on stage. Multiple performers move in and out of focus, each individual playing multiple roles and demonstrating multiple skills: singing, dancing, acrobatics, musical instruments, puppetry, stand-up comedy – there isn’t a moment’s rest.
And all the while the whole thing seems to be anchored beautifully by an ever-present underlying sense of tragedy, it’s like a glue that is probably most significantly materialised in the shape of the Chance twins’ stoicism when dealing with their father’s cruel acts of abandonment and neglect.
Wise Children is an outlandish but enchanting story that is so horribly sad and upsetting -yet one which is delivered in the form of a stage performance that carries so much positive energy.
This is a beautifully bewildering outburst of theatrical wizardry – so much effort and consideration must have gone into every aspect of this show, the level of detail is extraordinary; yet it presents itself as something that just organically flows off the stage, as if perhaps the entire performance was spontaneously and magically improvised there and then.
Photography: Steve Tanner
|Visual pleasure||A visually beautiful set dominated by the presence of a crusty old caravan and all manner of theatrical adornments: dressing tables, mirrors, lights. The on-stage delivery seemed to be so informal and laid-back: even before the show began the performers were loitering around, casually limbering up and stretching, there were even flat-capped stagehands in overalls solemnly sweeping up and fiddling with bits of scenery. It eventually became clear that this was part of the ethos of what was being played out on stage but on a few rare occasions it got a tiny bit distracting, almost as if there was too much to keep an eye on.||4|
|Auditory pleasure||Magnificent musical accompaniment by a three-strong live band who spent the entire show hidden away at the rear of the stage yet played such a crucial role in driving the atmosphere and mood of the evening. The weepy violin solos were extraordinarily good, a thing of beauty in their own right.||5|
|Architecture & Theme||An incredible story told in a wonderfully mesmerising manner. Despite being two hours long this pulled off the rare feat of being so captivating that I just didn’t want it to end – induced the same addictive lust as binge-watching a good box-set when you know you should stop.||5|
|Artistic delivery||A huge cast made up of twelve performers as well as three band members. Most of the actors were delivering more than one role but thankfully the clever use of conveniently embroidered letters on various costumes helped to distinguish between role changes. Outstanding performances from everyone, so many deep personalities and characters portrayed in such a short time.||5|
|Overall impact||An outstanding piece of theatre built on a strong story with huge value added in just about every aspect. It may have been adapted from a book but this feels like it was always made for the stage.||5|
|0||Detrimental – This aspect of the performance was so bad that it made the overall experience worse|
|1||Weak – This aspect of the performance was poor|
|2||Adequate – This aspect of the performance was perfectly acceptable, though nothing special|
|3||Good – This aspect of the performance was above average, it pleased in some way|
|4||Excellent – This aspect of the performance was much better than normal, it was impressive|
|5||Awe-inspiring – This aspect of the performance was exceptional, new boundaries were pushed.|