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Posts Tagged ‘Wise Children’

Emma Rice is first and foremost a storyteller. She sprinkles her stories with an inventiveness that makes them sparkle. Her best work, like Brief Encounter, Romantics Anonymous, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk and Tristan & Yseult is captivating. The problem with this adaptation of Percy & Eleonore Adlon’s German indie film is that there isn’t enough story. What comes out is still inventive, with exceptional stagecraft and excellent performances, but it isn’t substantial enough. I admired the work that had gone into it, but I was left thinking ‘what’s the point?’. Maybe she’s too close to the source (her favourite film) to be truly objective?

It’s set in the Mojave Desert in the South West US at a cafe / gas station miles from nowhere. Two German tourists are passing through, but for some reason Herr Munchgstettner abandons his wife Jasmin there. She befriends the bartenders, truckers and other travellers who are also passing through, makes herself useful enough to earn her stay there, and bonds with proprietor Brenda. Cue songs, magic and some dance, and that’s about it really. It’s more of a stage picture than a story, which is the crux of the issue for me.

The Old Vic stage transforms well into this desert landscape in Lez Brotherston & Vicki Mortimer’s design. There’s some good music, with Sandra Marvin and Le Gateau Chocolat in particularly good voice. There’s a fine collection of quirky characters passing through. In addition to the magic, there’s some mime, puppetry and other bits of fun business. The community choir on video at the curtain call was a lovely touch. It just doesn’t go anywhere, and in comparison with most of Rice’s work left me hungry. Idiosyncratic and charming, but slight and insubstantial.

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This is the second production from Wise Children, Emma Rice’s new company, following the show also called Wise Children. It wasn’t scheduled to come to London, so I went to Cambridge, which probably guarantees it will now come to London!

It’s based on the first of Enid Blyton’s books of the same name, set in a girls boarding school in Cornwall soon after the Second World War. Six schoolgirls arrive for their first term, joined by another held back a year. Each represents an archetype – the bully, the bossy one, the class clown, the timid one and so on. The clash between these very different personalities is the source of much of the story, though there’s an unplanned adventure and a school play to put on. It became a bit darker, with an injection of feminism, in the second half, which I liked. We don’t meet any of the staff, though the Headmistress is represented in animation, voiced by Sheila Hancock.

There are songs, including a handful of new ones by Ian Ross & Emma Rice and standards like Mr Sandman, with live piano accompaniment from Stephanie Hockley, occasionally joined by members of the cast on other instruments. There are clever projections and animations onto the second, classroom, level of Lez Brotherston’s set, with the front stage the dormitory. The seven performers are excellent, perfectly capturing the archetypes and the period. Yet there’s something missing – it has less of the inventiveness we’ve become used to with Rice’s work, it’s a bit slow to take off and it lacks some sparkle. That said, there’s a lot to enjoy and it was a somewhat nostalgic, chirpy show, if not not vintage Rice.

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