‘Wise Children’ review

Theatre, Drama
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(19user reviews)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve Tanner Showgirl Nora (Melissa James)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve Tanner Grandma Chance (Katy Owen), Nora (Etta Murfitt) and Dora (Gareth Snook) 
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve Tanner Showgirl Dora (Melissa James) and Showgirl Nora (Omari Douglas)
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve Tanner
 (© Steve Tanner)
© Steve Tanner Young Dora (Bettrys Jones), Grandma Chance (Katy Owen) and Young Nora (Mirabelle Gremaud)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Emma Rice bounces back with this gale-force take on Angela Carter’s final novel

Emma Rice’s first new show since being ousted from the Globe is not a dramatic departure. And why should it be?

‘Wise Children’ is the second Angela Carter novel she’s adapted (following ‘Nights at the Circus’, with her old company Kneehigh). The cast and creatives are dotted with familiar names, notably Kneehigh founder Mike Shepherd. And the Rice style – a sort of wild, knowing, joyous descendant of vaudeville – is very much in evidence.

She is an auteur, and it’s great to be back on Planet Rice as we’re introduced to gleefully fourth wall-breaking septuagenarians Dora and Nora Chance, who proceed to offer a potted history of their extremely complicated family.

Part of what makes ‘Wise Children’ (the book) a good fit for the stage is that there’s so much of it. ‘Wise Children’ (the play) is a gleefully breakneck night of storytelling that relishes in the many lurid details of the extremely complex story of intertwined Chance and Hazard clans. Bits have been cut, but the show revels in the epicness of the tale. LOADS of stuff happens, at a great giddy clip, as we journey from twin brothers Melchior and Peregrine Hazard’s fraught conception in the late Victorian era, on through the twentieth century and up until 1989 and Melchior’s hundredth birthday.

Full of bonking and bawdy and wilful staginess, Rice’s adaptation careens forwards on sheer brio, with the Chances played by one set of puppets and three pairs of actors – most notably, at their dancing peak, by Melissa James and Omari Douglas – whose genders and ethnicities switch at each turn.

There is an absolutely sensational turn from another Rice regular, Katy Owen, as the foul-mouthed, nudity-happy Grandma Chance, who raises the girls after their father, Melchior, abandons them. But her snarling remove from the entertainment world is the exception here, not the rule. Carter and Rice portray theatre as a feverish, thrilling disease of the blood – a pathological need for the stage animates these people’s bodies and desires, even as it subtly corrodes their souls.

The air of crazed exuberance is finally ditched in the climactic, Lynchian, party scene, in which the cost of this wild life is finally rammed home with a force that (as I recall) goes beyond the book. Carter contrives a happy ending – but it’s deliberately double-edged, a suggestion that this will never end. Which is glorious, in its way, but in the Old Vic of all places it’s impossible to forget the darkness that lurks beneath the smell of the greasepaint and the roar of the crowd.

It’s a bit galling to think what a good fit the wilfully Shakespearean plot of ‘Wise Children’ would have been at Rice’s old address, where it was originally intended to run. But it’s here, and it is good, and maybe this is the last time we need to mention the Globe in connection with Rice. ‘What a joy it is to dance and sing,’ say Carter’s characters, repeatedly, and for all the bumps along the way, maybe that’s all there is to it.


Users say (19)

4 out of 5 stars

Average User Rating

3.6 / 5

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Emma Rice's "Wise Children” is an intriguing and thoroughly creative piece of theatre. However, for me, the cabaret style created an emotional distance that left me cold. 

In this adaptation of Angela Carter's final book, twin sisters and ex-showgirls, Nora and Dora take centre stage once more to share the secrets of their tumultuous family history. But in this cabaret show, full of dancing, music, stand-up comedy and mime, is a tragic tale of abandonment and abuse.

The ensemble give exuberant and playful performances, with Gareth Snook and Omari Douglas being personal highlights, in a superb use of gender and ethnicity blind casting. The production design is equally full of whimsy and invention, and the use of song is often very poignant. 

For some reason the intentional contrast that develops between the razzle dazzle of the show and its darker themes clashed too harshly for me. As I often find when viewing Brecht’s work, I felt uncomfortably detached in moments of real tragedy. 

I have much admiration for Emma Rice and would encourage people to see this production as it is a feast for the eyes and ears. I’m just disappointed that it didn’t resonate with me as much as it has with so many others.


'Wise Children' tells the story of the Hazard dynasty who, in the words of Angela Carter, 'bestrode the British theatre like a colossus'. The bastard progeny, twins Nora and Dora Chance, narrate this rambunctious stage adaptation of Carter's last novel. It is fitting that 'Wise Children' is also the name of director Emma Rice's new theatre company as, like Carter, Rice sees the popular entertainer behind the highbrow. 'Wise Children', like Shakespeare, joyfully plays with gender, parody, doubling, legitimacy and performance.

The stories of Nora and Dora are told through several incarnations which include the elder Chance twins, the youngest as puppets and the superb showgirls of their triumphant blazing heyday. This neatly echoes the preoccupation with artifice that is central to both the novel and the stage adaptation.

The show itself is a joyful, comedic, irreverent, saucy tour de force that never dwells for too long on the darker moments of the past. I wondered how Rice and her team could ever manage to contain the sprawling, shifting, messy splendour of Carter's final novel; I was not disappointed. Rice's return to the theatre is appropriately a celebration of the magic and the absurdity of both life and the mirror we hold up to life on the stage. 

'What a joy it is to dance and sing!'


Wise Children was a joyous thing: as a massive Angela Carter fan, I was worried the staging wouldn't do her novel justice, but I really loved it.

The cabaret nature of the show, the gender- and ethnicity blind casting, the music, and the design added up to a really fun night of theatre.

Highly recommended!


Magically captivating the whole way through with lovely staging and an amazing cast. I loved the gender blind casting and felt completely engaged in the story and invested in the characters of Nora and Dora the whole way through.  As some of the other reviews have said there is a definite slapstick and crassness to the play which for the most part suited it well although I agree with those who have remarked on the unnecessary amounts of sex-scenes.  There are darker moments in the play which are well sign-posted but not forced and I feel like that was a better way of addressing them.

Definitely not one to take your parents too but a very lovely story and beautiful production.


Wise Children by Angela Carter is a definite, must see production and it’s absolutely bonkers from beginning to end. It will have you laughing multiple times during the show.

If you’re looking to have bucket loads of fun, then this show is the one.

Going to the Old Vic is always a delight. I adore the architectural design.

Every show I’ve been to see at the Old Vic has been fantastic and Wise Children is no exception.

Prepare to be amazed, dazzled, heartbroken, and very surprised.

Once again it’s absolutely exhilarating and inspiring to see a show with such a diverse cast.

It’s an absolute breath of fresh air to see female characters being played by male actors and vice versa.

It’s also great to see young actors playing elderly characters in the story.

Emma Rice who adapted and directed Wise Children has put together a mind blowing production with such a stunning cast.

We live in the year 2018 and we can finally start to slowly see things move forward.

There is no rules and it’s truly exciting to see the future moving swiftly in the right direction.

A story about two chorus girls born and bred south of the river. Nora and Dora Chance are celebrating their 75th birthday.

On the same day their father and actor Melchior Hazard turns 100 as does his twin brother Peregrine.

It’s a huge hullabaloo and a tangled up mess of a family.

Wise Children celebrates the art of show business, the understanding between people and how strong the word hope is in this play is brilliant.

It’s lovely to see Nora (Etta Murfitt) and Dora (Gareth Snook) tell their story, their life.

It was clear to see that a lot was going on in their lives.

Each scene is witty in its own way and it draws the audience in to find out more about these crazy characters.

I did find it to be quite complex at times and pretty difficult to follow.

Some parts were over the top, but in a way it worked for this type of show.

The cast in general were funny, but some points were continuously dragged on and it wasn’t necessary.

I did like the overall staging design and the dancers were exceptional to witness.

Each and every one of us has a story to tell.

It all depends on how we want to tell it and how to move forward from it.

In a way Wise Children teaches us how life can change in unexpected ways.

Wise Children has definitely got something and it has style. I enjoyed it.

Here is something that Emma Rice wrote herself. It’s one of her blogposts called ‘Eyes Wide Open’. I really wanted to include this in my review as it’s important.

“I work in an imaginative and story form so there are no barriers to gender parity and diverse casting and no barriers to creating access to all areas of the work. Don’t let anyone tell you differently! If I say a cup is a mouse, the audience will see a mouse. If I say a woman is man, they will believe it and if I cast a man and a woman from different cultural backgrounds as identical twins – no problem.” - Emma Rice

Love MD.



A bit 'pantomime for grown-ups' - as others have said in their reviews below, it was a bit 'Carry On'.

Parts were pretty crass - I personally found the repeated simulated sex just not funny, and it got pretty awkward because it was repeated so many times.

There were some real points of potential - the dancers and singers were pretty talented, but let down by the OTT and often hammy acting. Plus, while I understand the constant switching of actors it was pretty confusing and made an already complex story even harder to follow.

I think there were some brave attempts to cover serious subjects such as abuse and miscarriage but, due to the pantomime feel of the performance, it felt very light touch and not at all serious. This was a real flaw of the whole tone of the show- it was quite difficult to connect to the story or the characters.


We absolutely loved this play!

Set in South London, it all feels much more like a gypsy circus in Eastern Europe. I was taken from the very first few minutes. The atmosphere was joyful throughout despite some quite dark themes coming up here and there. The story follows 3 sets of twins in one same family, played by a cast of men and women playing parts regardless of gender or ethnicity, which to me worked really well as they were incredibly talented (acting, dancing, singing, comedy - they could do it all!). The decors were fantastic too.


Based on a book by Angela Carter, this is a fun show about the life of twin girls, born on the wrong side of the river, a bit bizarre & a bit off the wall. Gareth Snook plays one of the twins Dora with what looked like a homage to Grayson Perry. I'm not familiar with the original book, and although there is much to enjoy & much to admire I did find the whole story a bit confused. The production seemed too long for me, but I suspect the original story may be a bit too complex to capture in two hours plus. 


First of all i must say the actors are absolutely fantastic and talented (great singing and dancing). The actress playing the grandma is just the best and made me laugh my head off. I thought the French girl was pretty impressive too (what can she not do?!?!?!)
The set design is really well done and brings you into a very specific universe/atmosphere. 
As per the story, I liked most of it but got lost a couple of times and wasn't too sure about the end to be fair. I thought this play concluded in saying that all men were pigs and I am not sure this is what feminism is about. We want to be more clever than that and include all genders in our fight for equality. 
Talking about genders, I love seeing women roles played but men and vice versa! This play still has a massive potential and I was delighted to see that the story takes place in London.

I adore Emma Rice productions. She has a uniquely whimsical take on the world & her shows have a nostalgia & charm yet still are satirical & fresh. This has many of Ms Rice’s hallmarks from quirky musical interludes, strong ensemble & a cheeky knowing humour. The set is fabulous, cast uniformly perfect & the nudity & sex scenes were hilarious. It’s not all jollity though- there are some dark themes & some of the final scenes were shocking. This is an unusual & quirky evenings entertainment which I thoroughly enjoyed


I was really looking forward to this production at the Old Vic as I really liked Emma Rice's productions at the Globe. The set was really amazing and the costumes were stunning as well. The only complaint was that I had a spot light happen to shine directly into my eye for some scenes but this is probably specific to just my seat. The music was catchy and the story was just about enough to keep me engaged. However, I really do not understand what the gender-blind casting adds to the production. I even find it confusing at times especially if one actor is playing multi characters and changing between genders. I applaud the attempt to ensure gender equality but I think it could be done in a different way. Overall it was a fairly enjoyable and refreshing musical, but personally would have preferred a feel good musical for my night.

As soon as you enter the theatre you notice the shining star overlooking the set. 'Wise Children' is spelled out in bright lights and, in that moment, you know you're in for a show.

The first song kicks off and from then on the energy is relentless. The ensemble carries you through the memories of sisters Nora and Dora, from their birth in the 1910s, to their 75th birthday in the 1980s.

With some clever use of set and staging, lots of sing-along moments and panto-esque humour, expect to be highly entertained through this wacky tale of an unusual South London family.

Another great Emma Rice production! This play has great actors, some amazing singers and dancers. The story can feel a little confusing at times but just seat back and enjoy and it all makes sense in the end. Nora and Dora tell you the story of their lives including the highs and the lows of growing up on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’, which is very interesting and tacticals a number of difficult issues / situations.


What an interesting play. Wow.

I went into this not knowing anything about it - and leaving feeling much the same. The slapstick comedy was well punctured by dark and emotive scenes that helped ground the play. The set design was great and the musical numbers were a real highlight (my gosh, the lungs on some of the cast). But I did find it a little hard to follow because the storyline moves very quickly. 

If you're looking for a joyful, loud and colourful midweek play - this is a good one!


This is a joyous piece of theatre. Emma Rice has put her signature stamp on it and it's the perfect show for her new company Wise Children. The show does get quite dark at times but this is punctuated by moments of slapstick humour and stock characterisation. The ensemble are great, swapping in and out of different characters, I especially liked Katy Owen as the foul mouthed, nudist grandmother. You will leave with a smile on your face and a spring in your step!

This adaptation of Wise Children was the telling of what is essentially quite a tragic story, in a funny and compelling manner.  The humour is a bit slapstick and some of the jokes are a bit carry-on for my taste. But despite this I was very invested in the characters by the end of the first half, each has their own distinct personality and are played very well. It was quite refreshing to see roles treated with such a gender fluidity, it added interest to the the same roles played by very different actors.

Overall I would recommend and I'm excited too see what Rice produces next...


Emma Rice is certainly out there. Her company bearing the same name as this play, is multi-talented - singing, dancing, acting, violin-playing. The play is quirky and slightly odd but it holds the interest for two and a quarter hours. The set is dominated by a large caravan which rotates to show a home. The lives of two retired cabaret dancing elderly sisters are re-told. Everyone is a really 'large' character, whether the grandma, the father, the uncle or the step-mother. The music is catchy. There are clever details to bring injections of humour constantly.And there is a lot of subtle and not so subtle choreographed love-making. Rice is fluid in her gender and race interpretations of the characters; men are women and vice versa. White becomes black and vice versa. All interesting stuff.


Shows at the Old Vic could be a hit and miss, but I must say that this one is a HIT. 

This show felt more like a musical given lots of music, singing and dancing. The story was full of family scandals, with a brief disturbing scene of child abuse. 

The set hardly changed throughout the show, with only a trailer being turned 180 degrees now and again, but it was effective. The stage felt busy at times with a lot of cast members moving around; but that contributed to the feeling of high energy exuded from the stage. The wittiness of the script made everybody laugh throughout the show,

Overall, I like it, it was very entertaining and it cleverly told a scandalous story lightheartedly.


Bordering somewhere between genius and crazy, this is the debauched tale of two families, parallel lives and societal inequality. The first half felt very confused, erratic and panto like. Peppered with Shakespearean references, you can’t help but think Emma Rice is having a go at the Globe. The play eventually gains momentum and talks through everyday challenges, explores the sense of belonging, completeness, loneliness and family . It’s peppered With simulated sex and sexual exploration and elements of abuse. A remarkable cast , diverse in its ethnicity, gender and sexual exploration. Expect some top notch vocals, great contemporary dance and interesting costumes. The play has its laugh out loud moments, but will equal tug on your heart strings! As they say Comedy comes from other peoplessuffering!