Did critics think Wise Children was a smart act?
Emma Rice's new show had its opening this week at the Old Vic
Alex Wood, WhatsOnStage
"There are stellar turns from Paul Hunter as the Chance twins' natural father Melchior (Hunter also stealing some scenes as the innuendo-spouting comic Gorgeous George), while Katy Owen is simultaneously endearing and boisterously side-splitting as the twins' elected guardian Grandma Chance. All the regular Rice tropes appear – a quirkily dressed ensemble, a cloying interrogation of the idea of love, spontaneous musical numbers and a set of underdogs worth rooting for.
"The thespy content resonates on the page, but when presented live (one scene is even set in the Old Vic for some extra meta-theatrical fun) the show can be confounding rather than enthralling. Huge tragedies and swelling glee course through Carter's novel, but it all feels a bit too whimsical to ever really land in Rice's script."
"But compared to the romantic joys of Rice's other shows like Romantics Anonymous or the calamitous grace of something like Tristan and Yseult, under the near-constant tungsten glow of lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth's fairy lights, Wise Children has a habit of feeling, sadly, a bit beige."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage
"Rice's adaptation does not shy away from the plot's more subversive elements. It's chock-full of bonking and incest – though it actually contains less bonking and incest than the novel. There are also a couple of rather on-the-nose jokes about old-fashioned actor-managers who are forever taking liberties with the talent. The whole thing comes across as one huge love letter to theatre, albeit one that encompasses its seedier aspects as well a its power to transform and enchant."
"The absence of aerial work is notable given that the image of flying lovers has recurred so often throughout Rice's work. For all the theatrical hijinks, this feels most like a meditation on ageing than anything else. All the characters in Rice's staging are gradually replaced by older versions of themselves, their clothes fading and hair greying. This makes for a messy and often melancholy experience, frequently magical and pleasingly weird; not Rice's most soaring work perhaps but still a joy."
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
"Vicki Mortimer's set exposes the mechanics of the staging in the most bewitching of ways and the cast retain a self-conscious sense of performance, too. The twins' grandmother, played by Katy Owen, steals the show with saucy double entendres and fantastic physical comedy. They play their parts as if they are cabaret or pantomime performers, at pains never to become too real or human. The most emotionally wrenching moments (when the teenage twins are rejected by their father or when the grandmother dies) are never lingered on for long, and even in these moments there is a hint of comic burlesque."
"It is a spectacular show, distilling the carnivalesque spirit of the book yet managing to control its many unruly parts and surfeit of imagination. Rice's relaunch is a splashy one, celebrating the sheer razzle-dazzle of a life in theatre."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard
"Theatreland is the story's hero, and it comes across as a messily convivial place, full of greasepaint and emotion, antiquated jokes and giddy musical numbers (the songs are by Ian Ross). It's all sold with a rich sense of the surreal — by Gareth Snook as the 75-year-old Dora, Katy Owen as the twins' potty-mouthed granny, Paul Hunter as both Melchior and punning comedian Gorgeous George, and Omari Douglas and Melissa James, who are electrifying as the Chances in their showgirl heyday.
"Not everything works. Sometimes the theatrical in-jokes come too thick and fast, and the final scenes drag — notably during an awkward visit to Brixton's Electric Avenue. But Emma Rice does justice to the verve and racy humour of Carter's writing, and the result is a pleasing oddity, tinged with melancholy yet joyous and inventive."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"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."
"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."
Dominic Maxwell, The Times
"Some of Rice's old collaborators from Kneehigh Theatre are here on stage, including its present boss Mike Shepherd and the composer and bandleader Ian Ross. Another masterful performer-cum-artistic director, Paul Hunter from Told by an Idiot, is a master at making us complicit in his clowning. Everyone is good, but special credit to Melissa James and Omari Douglas for holding so much of the show together as the showgirl Dora and Nora."
"The tone is childlike but troubling. It's too sexual or grisly for children. This is a celebration of illegitimacy — theatrical and familial — that foregrounds strong, sexual women. It rushes through its suggestion of sexual abuse rather, and there are points where this mighty saga can feel episodic."