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Armchair Reviewers Club - Round up of Week 3 (Wise Children)

Thanks to everyone who joined us and watched Wise Children this week. It felt fun to go to the ‘theatre’ on a Saturday morning, cup of tea and bacon sarnie in hand!

I’m a big fan of Emma Rice and have seen lots of her work over the years with Kneehigh. I am always completely taken with the way she uses her ensemble to tell the story and finds a conceit (that doesn’t feel like a conceit) to enhance the storytelling, allowing us as an audience to get even more swept along with it.

Most of all I loved the theatricality of the piece and how beautifully woven it was through all elements - the style, the story, the setting. It reminded me of watching Gypsy as a child with my Grandma and dreaming about a career in the theatre, all chorus lines, high kicks and glamour!

But of course we know the truth of the matter all too well and that the glamour only thinly veils what a hard life our protagonists are faced with including the low pay, long hours, aching feet and crippling knees. Emma Rice’s production dances with these opposing themes perfectly - beauty and the darkness; the highbrow and the popular; the desire for love and the pain of rejection.

Janet gives us a great overview of the story:

‘Wise child follows the life of twin sisters who have now reached their 75 birthday. We go back to the meeting of their parents, the abandonment of their mother and subsequent death and them being raised by a lady they call granny. The play follows their lives, struggles and attempts to be recognised by their father.’
Janet via Facebook

The characters are fabulous and somehow the cast manages to play them comically, over the top but full of humanity and depth. Cathy’s description really hits the nail on the head in providing an evocative description, demonstrating the power of the piece to draw us in:

‘Wow - I've never seen anything like it. When it started I must admit that the variety performance/ panto feel it had initially put me off, but very quickly it became apparent that this was something different, something altogether more sophisticated and that a darker tale was being woven through the bright lights, colours and grins. It felt like a wonderful hybrid of traditional storytelling; physical theatre and myth-making. The puppetry and simple props/devices (the flames and butterflies on sticks); the incredible use of the performers’ bodies (slo-mo falls/sex scenes ranging from cringe worthy to tender) and the incredible costume and set design (grandma's body was a particular highlight for me - as was her character - I couldn't get enough of it).’
Cathy via email

Something similar is achieved with the setting and even though the worlds created feel distant and magical, they somehow remain real and relevant. Christine’s thoughts on the broader historical context of the play alongside her own personal experiences draws this out beautifully:

‘The changes in attitudes towards the interwoven subject matters over a century from the late C19th was captured cleverly in every way. Having lived around some of those South London areas in the 70’s and 80’s - I think the ‘diaspora of the affluent’ will be a line I will never forget. I left with my family in ‘91; all was becoming too expensive and the constant noise of refurbishment unbearable - builders, scaffolding, skips and rubble just everywhere.’
Christine via email

Although Alison wasn’t taken with the piece, she did draw some fabulous comparisons inspired by the main piece of set in the show – a full sized rotating caravan:

‘Wise Children had held such promise when I peeped at the set a few hours before starting to watch. Excitedly, I penned the opening lines of a review about how the best dramas use caravans - Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem; the Peggotty's boat-van on the beach in David Copperfield and of course the Corn Exchange's very own Intergalactic Caravan …sadly, it was not to be and those lines will have to wait for another caravan drama.’
Alison via email

Perhaps this is the beginning of the ‘Caravan Reviewers Club'? Watch this space…!

But for me, it is the storytelling that wins out with this piece and I want to end on another thought from Cathy on the way Emma Rice is able to tell and translate stories so brilliantly (this one originally being an Angela Carter novel). This was also a favourite element of the show for me:

‘The way that gender and race were fluid as the two sisters' story was told through different players, lending the entire tale a mythological and timeless feel, as though it were a tale as old as time, to be repeated again and again by different actors. It feels as though that mirrors the essence of Carter's story, the abuse and exploitations of women, the tawdriness of show biz/entertainment, the dysfunction and hurt of relationships. None of it is new. This also spoke of the way memories shift and alter, get embroidered and created with each remembrance'.
Cathy via email

The way that characters throughout the play were embodied by various members of the ensemble at various points in the story regardless of the age, gender or race of the performer, was a wonderful theatrical device, allowing us to enjoy each performer for their unique brilliance and their individual translation of the character they were playing, whilst sort of liberating and allowing us to think of the character’s human experience.

I was so delighted that the show’s joy, exuberance and theatricality translated to film and that I was taken on a fabulous journey in my front room. Although I did find myself using the experience of trips to the theatre to help me to translate and filter the experience, often finding myself turning to my husband and saying, ‘bet that bit was amazing live’ or ‘I bet that sounded good in the room’. Regardless of this, I am absolutely loving having access to all of this amazing work from home…but, equally, I cannot wait to be back in the auditorium of a theatre, sharing in all of that liveness and anticipation with my fellow audience members!

Until then I am loving your company and enjoying reading all of your brilliant writing, and look forward to more next week…

And this week’s show is Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True which can be found on YouTube. This is a multi-award winning show and intense and affecting piece about an historical rape trial in 1612, told in a contemporary style.

We'd love you to submit your thoughts, either on social media or by emailing [email protected] by Monday 27 April and we'll deliver the verdict on Wednesday 29 April.

Charlotte Hall

Head of Programming and Engagement