WISE Children, Emma Rice’s new stage adaptation of novelist Angela Carter’s celebration of theatre, is on tour at York Theatre Royal from tomorrow.

The touring production by the Kneehigh Theatre founder’s new company, also called Wise Children, marks a reunion of Theatre Royal executive director Tom Bird and Emma. He was executive producer at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, during her time there as artistic director in 2016 to 2018.

The York theatre provided funding for the launch production, co-produced with The Old Vic, and now Emma stages a production in York for the first time.

Carter’s story in her last novel focuses on Brixton duo Nora and Dora Chance, twin chorus girls born and bred south of the river as they celebrate their 75th birthday. Over the Thames 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.

York Press:

75th birthday celebrations: Gareth Snook as Dora in Wise Children

So begins a big, bawdy tangle of theatrical joy and heartbreak that celebrates show business, family, forgiveness and hope in a play replete with show girls and Shakespeare, sex and scandal, music, mischief and mistaken identity – and butterflies by the thousand.

On stage all the time in the guise of the 75-year-old Dora will be Gareth Snook, who did not work with Emma during her 20 years at Kneehigh but did do so at the Globe. “I met Emma almost coincidentally, because in the first part of 2017 I played Capulet in Romeo And Juliet at the Globe, directed by Daniel Kramer, and while there she asked me to do a show called Romantics Anonymous, which we did at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre later that year: a small musical that went down a storm,” says Gareth.

“Emma then asked me to play Dora in Wise Children with Etta Murfiit as Nora. Nora and Dora tell their life story, both narrating it and being involved in it, enacting their lives.”

Gareth, who has “not quite experienced 75 yet”, continues: “This is where it gets interesting because there are three sets of Nora and Dora in the show: It opens in 1989 with Nora and Dora on their 75th birthday and covers three generations. Young Nora and Dora are played by puppets, and then we have the Nora and Dora in their showgirl days. It’s all set in Brixton, South London, which was crowded with theatres at that time, with plenty of musicals.”

Being on stage constantly and taking part in such a full-on show is “absolutely thrilling”, says Gareth. “I’ve been around a while, but I’ve never worked with anyone like Emma before!

York Press:

Gareth Snook, far right, with the showgirls in all their glory, in Wise Children

“With her productions, we always start with the script, but then it’s up to us what we do with the script. Emma has her ideas but she allows us to give her options to see if she likes what we come up with; maybe something she has never thought of.

“That’s what makes her shows so imaginative and so enjoyable for the audience and so pleasurable for the actors to perform because it’s so liberating for us.

“What’s happened with theatre over the years is that the advancement in technology has in a way made it less theatrical, but what Emma does is strip it back to the actors, so if you’re in a car, for example, all you need is a steering wheel and a chair.

“I think audiences enjoy it more because they have to use their imagination, which gives them a tremendous amount of fun.”

What’s more, Emma’s shows keep evolving, says Gareth. “Again, that’s so liberating for actors. There isn’t an end, a stopping point; we continue to find new things and react to that on stage where there’s always room to do that.”

Wise Children/The Old Vic in Wise Children, York Theatre Royal, March 5 to 16. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk