21 May 2022
WISE CHILDREN (York Theatre Royal) Review

This is the recording of the 2019 production from Emma Rice (broadcast by the BBC during the lockdown, but I haven’t had the time to watch it till today).  It is an adaptation of Angela Carter’s 1991 novel and tells the story of the twin sisters, Nora and Dora Chance, and their dysfunctional family.

I haven’t read the novel, so looked it up online.  It seems a lot of the characters and subplots have been cut (and cut well, I must say, as they wouldn’t have contributed much to the main story Rice was trying to amplify), a few things have been added or slightly tweaked.  It’s a surprisingly clear staging, doubly so given that almost every character is played by different actors as characters age.  There is also a bit of gender-bender where the grown-up Dora and young Nora are played by men (the latter by Omari Douglas).

Having seen Rice’s “Bagdad Cafe” last year (which means I saw her most recent show first), the two are very similar:  even the same trailer makes an appearance in both plays.  Had I seen Wise Children first, I wouldn’t have bothered with Bagdad Cafe, if I’m honest.

The production is upbeat and glamorous, has a lot of song and dance, and so it should be very watchable.  Yet it just fell flat for me:  I couldn’t engage with the characters or get excited about their lives or stories.  At what would’ve been an over 2.5 hours performance (with interval) at the theatre, it drags on, and some numbers seem to be just fillers.  By and large, Katy Owen (as Grandma) carries the show and injects some much needed humour by way of a fantastic costume from Vicki Mortimer.  Everyone else does a fine job, but, somehow, even with all of its complex themes of parenthood, responsibility, abandonment, etc., it’s not a play that makes you think.  Or at least it didn’t make me think about anything after it was over.

One of the characters says, “I expected more, but I’m satisfied”.  I reckon that’s an accurate tagline for this show.

Time Clawback rating: 40%.

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