Fearless, fabulous WAAPA crew hit the heights

9 September 2023

The WAAPA graduating class’s production of Wise Children sinks its teeth into our reviewer David Zampatti and won’t let go. He begs us not to miss this one.

Wise Children, WAAPA 3rd Year Acting students
Roundhouse Theatre, Edith Cowan University, September 8 2023

Emma Rice’s 2018 adaptation of Angela Carter’s 1991 novel Wise Children sprawls, legs akimbo, across WAAPA’s Roundhouse Theatre stage like a snarling, randy creature.

From its first scene it has its teeth in you.

That scene introduces us to the twin Chance sisters Nora (Elyse Phelan and Edyll Ismail) and Dora (Lucinda Smith and Lauren McNaught). Wise Children tells their story from birth, the death of their mother and abandonment by their father, through their often lurid adventures as showgirls in London and Hollywood (Estelle Davis and Tess Bowers) and, finally, as 75-year-old survivors of all that life has thrown at them.

The Chance gals are colourful-enough characters to carry a show on their own, but swirling around them is a Dickensian menagerie of the best and worst of humanity. There’s the amoral father Melchior Hazard (Will Lonsdale and James McMahon at his different ages), apparently avuncular uncle Peregrine (Tyler Redman and Joseph Baldwin ditto), their voluminous grandma (Ruby Heneway), their hideous half-siblings Imogen (Jesse Vasiliadis) and Saska (Kelsey Jeanell), and the half-siblings’ tragic mother Lady Atalanta (Aida Bernhardt).

It’s a witch’s brew, and Carter, along with Rice, whose mercurial and truncated tenure as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe is a flashing light here, both have immense fun with the great playwright’s poetry and his theatrical craft. (And not just Shakespeare – Richard Brinsley Sheridan gets to walk in with an elaborate, pyrotechnical set up for his gloriously insouciant  “a man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside” as he watches his Drury Lane Theatre burn down.)

Wise children
Witch’s brew: Elyse Phelan, Edyll Ismail, Ruby Heneway, Lauren McNaught and Tess Bowers in a scene from ‘Wise Children’. Photo: Stephen Heath

There are names dropping like flies amid a deluge of theatrical devices from commedia dell’arte to Brecht to panto in a Carnivale parade of ideas. There can’t be a better director for this stampede than Adam Mitchell who keeps a simultaneously tight and loose rein on his horses throughout.

It’s almost worth the price of admission just for Vasiliadis and Jeanell’s endless scream as the story gallops to its climax.

This is a terrific graduating class of WAAPA’s Acting course – they are wicked, sexy, fabulous at just about everything and fearless in the face of anything they haven’t mastered yet.

Wise Children is a great test for them; it’s almost a musical – Ian Ross’s original songs are bangers, folded beautifully into the best of the British and American songbooks by musical director Joshua James Webb. Webb also leads a tight four-piece band behind and above Sarah Halton’s set that could just as easily house A Streetcar Named Desire.

G Madison IV’s choreography is spat, polished and contemporary, and the ensemble’s work would pass muster in the Maj or at Crown.

Particular credit goes to intimacy director Sam Chester who has balanced imagination, humour and care in a work that needs all three. Sometimes very much.

This is wonderful theatre, marvellously staged and performed. In its scope, its variety and ambition it reminded me of The Team’s amazing panorama of Las Vegas and the backwash of the American Dream, Mission Drift, that had me begging everyone I met to see it at the Perth Festival a decade or so ago. If there are tickets still to be had, I’m on my knees to you again for Wise Children

For all its fun and games, there’s a point to Wise Children that this production keeps its teeth buried deep in. Honesty is hard, lies are easy. Betrayal and self-gratification are paved with fool’s gold, while love and loyalty travel hard and thorny paths. Oh, and girls just want to have fun. 

Wise Children continues until 14 September 2023

Pictured top: Will Lonsdale and Estelle Davis amid the colour and chaos. Photo: Stephen Heath

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

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