Friday 19 August 2022


 Nottingham Playhouse

6th August, 2022, matinee

They are identical

The premise of this world premier has, on paper, the perfect formula: based on a well-loved story, with music and lyrics by the UK's foremost composers and directed by a theatre legend. It is pleasing to see new musical theatre writing being performed at this scale with such polish and with creatives of this calibre involved. On the whole, Identical is an entertaining slice of whimsy, while not quite exceeding the sum of its parts.

Following the scrapes and schemes of Lottie and Lisa, twins separated at birth, Stuart Paterson's book owes more to Erich Kästner’s original novel than the various film adaptations. Located in 1950’s Germany and Austria we’re treated to some stunning European set design, making great use of moving LED screens in which Douglas O’Connell’s video designs meltingly transport us from rural holiday camps to train stations, theatres and palatial mansions. I’ve often been cynical of the over reliance on video effects in theatre, but this has completely won me over, as the designs seamlessly blend with Robert Jones’s physical set pieces and effectively expand the world upon the stage. Returning to the story’s roots lends the piece a classic air, even if the lack of modernity and Nunn's direction favours quaintness over comedic potential.

Stiles and Drewe’s music and lyrics are ebullient and accessible. From the wry “It’s Not for Me to Say” to more emotional ballads like “We Were Young”, the music often helps to advance character. I particularly enjoyed “Little White Bird”, played after the twins have reunited, in which Lisa’s poem accompanies Lottie’s self-composition on the piano perfectly. It shows their synchronicity and implicitly reflects Stiles and Drewe’s song-writing process. But it’s the title number which is really memorable and the tune I’ve found myself humming a few days later.

Nunn creates some stunning set pieces. I particularly enjoyed the ballet scenes which later bleed into Lottie's nightmarish visions of being torn from her sister as a baby, set against a fairytale backdrop worthy of the Brothers Grimm. Large ensemble moments such as these are countered with many intimate scenes between the sisters and their parents. Emily Tierney and James Darch are both charming as the estranged couple, and Louise Gold and Michael Smith-Stewart make an entertaining double act as Johan's housekeeper, Roza, and the local Doctor. At this performance Lisa and Lottie were played by Eden and Emme Patrick, and both girls impressively lead the show with great skill and charisma. Casting Director, Anne Vosser, has accomplished a real coup in finding not just one, but three sets of triple threat identical twins. The relationship between the girls is completely believable and very sweet, ensuring the piece is full of heart.

The piece is quite long at just shy of three hours. In particular, there are some bits of exposition, even late in the show with characters explaining to each other what’s happened, which aren’t necessary. On the other hand, I felt that some cuts had possibly already been made which left parts of the show not making sense. For instance, a sub-plot in which Roza has been stealing money to send to her ill sister seems somewhat misplaced. Is this simply to convey that Lotte has better Maths skills than her sister and is able to spot that money is missing from the household? If so, I think other parts of the book achieve this already. I also couldn’t help but wonder if the dog, which barely gets any stage time, had another scene in which he excitedly welcomes the returned twin sister.

But these are all kinks I’m confident can be ironed out if the musical were to – and surely it must – have a further life. It may be twee, but Identical is also entertaining and bright, and spot-on musical theatre escapism.

Identical ran at the Nottingham Playhouse until 14th August. It plays at The Lowry, Salford, from 19th August – 3rd September.

Emme Patrick and Eden Patrick in Identical. Credit: Pamela Raith.

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