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Theatre: Wise Children, HOME Manchester

An adaptation of Angela Cater's novel is a memorable love letter to theatre and Shakespeare in particular

IT’S a wonder that it’s taken so long for Angela Carter’s 1991 novel to be adapted for the stage. It’s been well worth the wait.

Director Emma Rice has brought all the trademarks associated with her previous troupe Kneehigh to this first production for her new company Wise Children, with bawdy comedy, song, dance and puppetry that’s unafraid to address heavyweight subjects and emotions.

Taking sections of dialogue directly from Carter’s novel, the play follows the fortunes of identical showgirl twins Dora and Nora Chance through a series of flashbacks. Narrating their own story, they reinvent versions of themselves as themes of class, incest and the role of the father come to the fore.

Played by three sets of actors to convey their various life stages, two of the twins are played by men — it’s every woman’s tragedy that, after a certain age, she looks like a female impersonator, quips Gareth Snook as the 75-year-old Dora. It’s a gender-swapping that honours both Shakespeare and the author’s love of artifice.

The book’s extensive range of characters has required some culling, which has incidental effects on the plot. Most of these changes are in keeping with the recurrent themes but they do leave a number of gaps in the story and the fleeting references to domestic abuse and paedophilia sit rather uncomfortably.

The economisation of plot also extends to the locations, with designer Vicki Mortimer centring most of the action on a moveable caravan, its cross-section variously revealing a family home and dressing room.

A design that helps to create a heightened sense of reality, it’s in keeping with the larger-than-life cast and a storyline that necessitate a joyous, carnivalesque suspension of belief.

Tours until April 6, details: wisechildren.co.uk.

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