Q&A with Wise Children director Emma Rice

Emma Rice is directing her adaptation of Angela Carter’s novel Wise Children. Best known for her work with Kneehigh and artistic directorship of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, Rice is a somewhat controversial figure in the arts world and a spectacularly talented creative. Here are her thoughts on the upcoming show…

Q: You and Tom Bird, Executive Director at York Theatre Royal, have worked together before, haven’t you?

A: Yes, Tom and I worked together at Shakespeare’s Globe and had a great time. He’s a fantastic producer and a great firend, and we said, ‘let’s do something together’. A group of theatres have come together to invest as co-producers, which means  financial backing for us, and York Theatre Royal has been really instrumental in all the development processes in launching the company.

Q: How was it opening Wise Children at the Old Vic in London last summer?

A: It feels great; it’s been pretty nerve-wracking; hard work. It’s one of those rare moments where you feel  happy and it’s all come together.

Q: What is Wise Children about?

A: It’s the story of Nora and Dora Chance, twin chorus girls born and bred south of the river, celebrating their 70th birthday in Brixton. Across the river in Chelsea, their father and greatest actor of his generation, Melchior Hazard, turns 100, on the same day. As does his twin brother Peregrine. If, in fact, he is still alive. And if, in truth, Melchior is their real father after all. A big, bawdy tangle of theatrical joy and heartbreak, Wise Children is a celebration of showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope.

Q: How did you set about adapting  Angela Carter’s novel?

A: I was a great fan of Angela Carter in my 20s; she has had a magical impact on people’s lives; she’s breathtaking in allowing the unimaginable to happen, so we fit together well! When I set up my new company Wise Children, I knew I would open with an adaptation of Wise Children after calling the company that name, presenting Carter’s open love letter to theatre in all its aspects, its power and glories. To create the adaptation I read Carter’s novel, then wrote down the story or ‘what I remembered of it’.  I then started working on it with the actors, using their collective imaginations, so that they can pass on their own experiences in theatre.

Q: What about casting in the light of your track record for picking unconventional casts?

A: The actors I’m drawn to over and over again, and the way I tell stories, reflect how I always like to open up to diversity, expanding on my own experiences of humanity, especially in these polarised times, by looking at people who have had different experiences to your own.

Q: Against the 2019 backdrop of drabness, division, enmity and lost hope, you’re presenting a work celebrating showbusiness, family, forgiveness and hope.

A: They represent a lot of my life. When I talk of family, I mean not only blood family but how we connect as humans.

Catch the show at York Theatre Royal from 5th – 16th March 2019.

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