After previously taking on Shakespeare and puppetry, there could be no other choice this year than the brilliant Emma Rice – with her final winter season at the Globe coming to a close, and Wise Children taking its first steps, it’s been another eventful 12 months for her.
There have also been tours of her previous productions this year; Brief Encounter was revived for runs at Birmingham Rep, the Lowry and the Empire Cinema Haymarket – and it’s now due to go on an international tour, prior to returning to the UK. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk was supposed to have a New York date (thanks to winning the Carol Tambor award at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe), but that sadly never materialised – I did, however, get a few months out of the show while it was in England.
January seems so long ago that I almost forgot that the gorgeous Romantics Anonymous was still running at the beginning of the year! (Given that some people seem to be ignoring Emma Rice’s subsequent work and just talking about this one, I really don’t know how my brain managed this.) It was a lesson in checking the closing dates for all shows very carefully; in my haste to make sure I saw An American in Paris again, I booked a front row seat for its final performance, only to discover a month or so later that this clashed with the closure of Romantics Anonymous… I did at least get to three shows in that first week of January, including the final matinée – given how emotional the show always made me, it’s probably for the best that I wasn’t there for the evening!
It’s only a shame that this musical didn’t come along a lot sooner in Emma’s tenure at the Globe, as it brought in a lot of people unfamiliar with her work and won her a new set of fans (it’s remarkable what the phrase “new musical” can do) – she could have done with the support of this new group during her final summer season. Anyway, it seems very likely that a tour of Romantics Anonymous will materialise at some point (the show was worked on for too long for it to have such a short life), so that may end up being something else that occupies my time next year…
Such a big sense of relief when I heard (through a well-placed source!) that The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk was getting a whole tour – I was gutted when I thought I was only going to get the chance to see this perfect show once, at Bristol Old Vic last year, so I absolutely made the most of this new run. I’m glad I also thought of creating a ‘tour diary‘ once it started its trek around the country, as that kept the whole thing rather well documented (and proved that I did indeed make the journeys I claimed); it also gave me the opportunity to visit some theatres I’d wanted to tick off my list, as well as make long overdue return visits to others – such as Salisbury Playhouse, in spite of the Novichok incident still hanging over it at that point.
It was also incredibly well suited to Wilton’s Music Hall in Whitechapel, where it began its run in January, and I rather hope that it might make a return there again one day. (It would also be a terrific venue for a certain musical about chocolatiering…) I still marvel at the beauty of the show; it’s a rare thing for production shots to be so stunning, rarer still for that to translate into an even more stunning show. The music is wonderful, emotions run deep, and the physicality is second to none.
I was really excited that Brief Encounter was being brought back – so much so that I arranged to go and review it for both BroadwayWorld UK and Mind the Blog… A little bit cheeky, but it was definitely worth it! Not least because a few actors who have been involved in some of Emma Rice’s previous productions were invited to the official press night – so that meant I could have a quick catchup with some friendly faces as well as see a brilliant show.
A bit earlier on in the process I was also lucky enough to interview Jos Slovick, who gave a memorable performance in the show as Stanley (opposite the equally hilarious Beverly Rudd). It was really interesting to hear that things had come full circle with him and Brief Encounter: he’d seen the show when it was in London before, which inspired him to get a ukelele & learn one of the songs that he ended up singing in the show this time round!
Putting the show on in an actual cinema was a stroke of genius, and it provided a unique atmosphere – especially with the band playing us in and members of the cast acting as ushers, and showing us to our seats. After revelling in the idea of a longer run of an Emma Rice show, it was gutting to see the run cut short (annoyingly with not enough notice for me to make a final return visit).
I’d missed out on The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales in Emma Rice’s first winter season, so yet more relief came my way when a new tour (ending at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) was announced – and it was made even better by the casting of Katy Owen this time round! I managed a quick dash to Bristol for the evening in December last year, but annoyingly couldn’t fit any of the other tour dates in until it reached London. Obviously that had to be the final performance, as that also marked Emma’s final day in charge at the Globe! And it ended up with The Kinks following me once again, as Emma led us in a sing-song of Days after the performance.
The show is simultaneously beautifully joyous and gloriously melancholy, not shying away from the darkness of life – but doing an incredible job of entertaining for the most part. It definitely stays true to the spirit of the Hans Christian Andersen original, in that respect.
What everyone had been looking forward to throughout 2018 was the birth of Wise Children, with Emma Rice’s adaptation of Angela Carter’s final novel Wise Children coming to the Old Vic prior to a tour of its own. I made sure to book several tickets before seeing it, including the first preview and final performance, in complete trust that she would once again come up trumps. The fact that Katy had been cast, as well as familiar faces in Gareth Snook, Mike Shepherd, Bettrys Jones and Ankur Bahl, convinced me even further.
Thankfully, after the first preview not quite moving me in the way I’d come to expect from an Emma Rice show, as it continued to be worked on during the run it became more & more familiar – and of course I got incredibly attached to it. It featured towards the end of my 2018 challenge week, with an article on Vicki Mortimer’s design (and design in general). After the success of my Flying Lovers tour diary I decided that it would only be right to do the same thing for Nora & Dora, especially as the second date I was due to attend was on my birthday. A day made even more special, as I capped off this Emma Rice year by finally meeting the woman herself!
Clearly I will be continuing on the Wise Children tour, once it starts up again in 2019 (I’m really excited to have an excuse to go back to York, as well as the slightly left-field venue of Chester) – so keep an eye on the tour diary to see how all of that goes. I’ll also be living in hope of a new production from Wise Children before the end of the year, or perhaps a revival of one of Emma’s previous shows heading out on tour. Either way, if the name Emma Rice is involved, you can be sure to find me there.