REVIEW: Sublime, stupendous, richly gorgeous, all singing all dancing and superb acting in the riot of fun that is Wise Children at Cambridge Arts Theatre

PUBLISHED: 02:02 22 November 2018 | UPDATED: 02:02 22 November 2018

Wise Children at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

Wise Children at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

Archant

A packed audience at the Cambridge Arts Theatre stood on its feet and cheered at Emma Rice's production of Wise Children. It is a triumph of storytelling, belly-laugh humour, soul-stirring dance and powerful singing from a cast of 12 who play 22 different roles.

A packed audience at the Cambridge Arts Theatre stood on its feet and cheered at Emma Rice’s production of Wise Children. It is a triumph of storytelling, belly-laugh humour, soul-stirring dance and glorious singing from a cast of 12 who play 22, really different, characters. This is sheer entertainment.

The show is based on the novel by Angela Carter, who reminded us of the old saying that it is a wise child who knows his father.

The central figures are twin girls, Nora and Dora former dancers, living in Brixton, who on their 75th birthday are finally acknowledged by their classical actor father. It is his 100th birthday and they are invited to his party in a smarter part of London. It is 1989.

The girls’ father, Melchior, is also a twin. While he wants nothing to do with his illegitimate children, whose young mother has died in childbirth, his twin brother Peregrine supports them from a distance while they are brought up by an old cockney landlady they call Grandma Chance.

To complicate the story, after disowning his first set of baby girls, Melchior marries a wealthy young woman and has yet another set of twin daughters whom he dotes on.

As the poor twins grow up to become chorus girls, the posh twins go to drama school. “Rada-da, we call it,” say the abandoned twins.

The characters are played by different actors as they age.

The story is narrated by Nora and Dora as old ladies, Dora, played by the Heaven-sent Gareth Snook - an absolute master of the stage, and Nora, played by Etta Murfitt his female partner. They are a subtle, pantomime-style comedy duo.

As little girls in white dresses, young Dora and Nora are played by the versatile Bettrys Jones and the rubber-limbed Mirabelle Gremaud, who literally bends over backwards.

And as the teenage show girls with all the high kicks, a drum roll please for the impressive, long-legged pair, Melissa James as Dora and Omari Douglas as Nora, dancing, singing and acting their hearts out from their eyelashes to their toes.

A truly ensemble cast glide in an out of roles, each one entirely convincing, every one delightful. There is never a dull second.

Meanwhile, the posh twins, Saskia and Imogen (played by Bettrys Jones and and Katy Owen) are a scream. Katy Owen is a marvel, playing both upper class Imogen and the cynical old Grandma Chance, reminiscent of Katherine Tate’s granny.

The multiple roles here are a joy. Patrycja Kujawska has three roles as a woman in a wheelchair (simply called Wheelchair) Melchior’s upper class wife, Lady Atlanta and Blue Eyed Boy (involved with Nora and Dora in a teenage love affair). She also plays the violin.

Sam Archer (a great dancer) plays the young Peregrin, and Ankur Bahl the young Melchoir, both with plenty of humour and aplomb. Older Peregrin is played by Mike Shephard and old Melchior is played by Paul Hunter who also plays an end of the pier commedian, breathing life into old jokes.

“A husband tells his wife that the milkman has slept with every woman in the street except one. The wife sniffs: ‘I bet it’s that stuck up cow at number 54.’”

This show is a delight. There is not a flaw anywhere or with anyone. Plaudits too, to the on-stage band, Stu Baker, Alex Heane and Ian Ross and for great costumes and set from Vicki Mortimer. The only thing I would change would be to add a pause after Gareth Snook sings The Way You Look Tonight - because I wanted to clap.

We did clap though, thunderously and pretty much after every song and every dance - they could have taken a dozen curtain calls. We would have sat back down and seen the show all over again right there. This is a turbo-charged celebration of all the theatrical traditions, a hymn to the stage, a masterpiece and a masterclass of individual and ensemble performance. See this show at least once.

Wise Children is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 24.

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