Friday, 14 December 2018
Wise Children | Oxford Playhouse | Tuesday, November 13
BEFORE you know it, Wise Children lifts us off the drab stage set and takes us flying with joyous singing, dancing and vitality.
Then just as you reach cruising speed it thumps you in the solar plexus and brings you plunging back to earth again — but not for long.
The play is the latest adaptation from the wondrous imagination that occupies Emma Rice’s mind, and it is platinum standard theatre — part tragedy, part comedy, part history and pantomime at its heart.
There is so much in this dramatic retelling of an Angela Carter story that you’re left saturated with experiences from it.
The bare bones are that it’s the life stories of two twins born on the wrong side of the river to a disowning actor and a mother who dies in childbirth.
But there is ample muscular flesh on those bare bones and Ms Rice plunders all the conventions to bring this brilliantly to life.
We have the twin girls in three iterations, including two which feature one of them as a pantomine dame.
The dance and movement is first rate, the music well chosen and delivered, the acting expert and the storytelling superb. And yet underlying all this is a dark base to the piece. Two orphaned girls are denied education, so look to make a life by dancing. It’s a stellar but short career and no amount of physical exertion, sex, drink, singing and all-round hedonism can cover up the holes in their lives.
An apparently good-hearted uncle turns out to be an incestuous predator; their emotional pillars are forever flimsy but they battle on through life with good humour and energy, always keeping themselves just high enough to avoid falling down that hole.
There is never a moment when this show drags — it’s filled with action and every part of it fits the narrative. The ensemble cast give it everything switching genders and roles continually.
The set is not much more than a mouldy old caravan which turns round to reveal the interior of a compact working class London home — or whatever else it may be needed for.
In the end this is a sad tale, but the blizzard of ideas makes it exceptional.
This is the third time this year that this reviewer has been to an Emma Rice production at the Playhouse and each occasion has left me feeling energised and enriched.
Quite a eulogy, but it is a hell of a good piece
14 November 2018
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