It’s tough to love an adaptation of something you love so much in its original form. It can never hold the intricate details of your own imagination, it can never clutch your heart the way it did at your first encounter, or when you re-turn the pages. Just as well then, that we are taking a look inside Emma Rice’s imagination then perhaps, which is a brightly coloured world of ageless wonder.

I find it quite terrifying that it is 10 years since I first read Angela Carter’s magical, yet dark, novel. Wise Children has the theatre and world of performance running through its core, and so a stage adaptation is not gratuitous, but somewhere this book can feel at home. It adds another dimension when we are no longer readers but a live audience to the songs, dances and curtseys of the effervescent Chance girls. It does so by sacrificing details in place of spectacle but it’s true that on the stage sequins are more enticing than Lyon’s tea shops.

sacrificing details in place of spectacle

It may not contain all the elements I dreamt up, and the plot and cast have been thinned, but see to the tassels fly, the sequins glint and to hear the piano is a real treat to relish. A real joy. To see all the ages of Dora and Nora’s eight decades of life, together on one stage creates a stage picture I never could have imagined. The carnivalesque meets classic storytelling. If you are not familiar with the novel, it may feel like even more of a whirlwind!

“Comedy is tragedy that happens to other people” Nora observes, and there is here before us a menagerie of conflicting emotions. There are no heroes and no villains. The stage is a place where the improbable can be made real, the real made improbable and beneath the delightful bright and colourful dancing singing characters a streak of something nasty that always threatens to bleed though. The adaption for all it’s coloured lights never loses sight of the this. Blood and sweat and wig caps galore.

Blood and sweat and wig caps galore.

It’s a joy, it’s a tragedy. Read the book for the nuances but enjoy the magic that is Emma Rice’s imagination whilst it graces the stage.


8th Oct – 10th Nov, The Old Vic, London


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