5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
One of the wonders of the world is how new musicals are born. Many years of nurturing and honing creative ideas, perfecting with passion and love and striving for stardust. Stiles & Drewe first conceived their new musical Identical nearly a decade ago. It would have been seen 2 years ago had it not been for a world pandemic but the wait is over and the much anticipated World Premiere of Identical has finally opened at Nottingham Playhouse. We are gifted with a truly joyous, luminous new musical theatre gem to lift heart and soul. Enchanting and utterly beautiful, Identical looks stunning and is full of captivating, intelligent, poignant and witty songs performed by an impressive cast.
Composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe are renowned for their uplifting musicals Mary Poppins, Honk!, Half A Sixpence, The Wind in the Willows, Soho Cinders, Betty Blue Eyes and many more besides. Judging by the enthusiastic audience reaction and standing ovation, Identical, wonderfully directed by Trevor Nunn who holds a particular fascination and awe of twins and ‘coincidences’, and produced by Kenny Wax, is surely also destined for the West End.
The heart-warming story of twins separated as babies and then reunited against the odds is based on Erich Kästner’s classic 1949 novel Das Doppelte Lottchen (The double lottery). Identical is set in Austria and Munich in 1950 rather than America as is Disney’s 1961 film adaptation The Parent Trap staring Hayley Mills, and the updated 1998 remark starting Lindsay Lohan.
Stuart Patterson’s warm script remains faithful to the book with Lisa and Lottie meeting at a European summer camp and incredulous on discovering each other’s existence, decide to learn as much about each other as they can cram into their heads so they can swap places and each go ‘home’ to the mother and father they have never met. It’s a dramatic heart-warming story with opportunities aplenty for all sorts of mischief, fun and genuine emotion.
The outstanding creative team have clearly spent many hours working out much intricate detail for performers and staging with beautiful set design by Robert Jones enhanced by truly impressive state-of-the-art 3D video design from Douglas O’Connell. Set changes are seamless as vivid green coutryside and moving clouds transform instantly to separate side by side street and home scenes in Munich and Vienna. Cars and trams whizz past, birds fly around spectacular alps and falling leaves indicate seasons changing. We move swiftly from stately Viennese mansions to the ornate Opera House where Lottie becomes transfixed by the ballet and her father’s music.
In short the projections are stunning.
The enormous challenge of finding twins who can truly act & sing surpasses expectations. Nottingham has 3 sets of twins on hand (who endearingly all appeared at the end of Press Night). Eden and Emme Patrick are exceptionally impressive ~ confident, assured, energised and completely believable. Their first duet together ‘You’re My Sister’ was intelligent, thoughtful and beautifully sung! Swiftly followed by an incredibly intricate and super speedy ‘If I Became You’. These girls had to learn a lot of lyrics and melodies and they triumphed! Their acting throughout was extraordinary with some very moving moments that genuinely brought a tear to the eye.
The reunion of each twin with their unknowing parent was genuinely affecting. Emily Tierney as Mum Lisalotte (which is how the girls were named) has evident rapport with Lisa (Eden) and her song ‘My Little Girl’ was beautifully enacted and sung. Similarly James Darch as dad Johan has great affinity with Lottie ~ his incredulity at how his daughter can now play the piano and compose after just one summer camp was great fun! There’s no real information about why Lisalotte and Johan divorced, simply stating ‘We Were Young’… As they are both clearly devoted to each of their daughters it is a little bemusing that neither seems to have given the missing daughter much thought in the intervening years, but when they find them again the joy is instant and truthful.
Unlike the film adaptations, Johann’s romantic interest, Miss Gerlach played by Gabrielle Lewis-Dobson, is not so much unlikable (as she is in the film) but rather detached, single-minded and driven by her career as a prima ballerina, determined to marry Johan as a man of influence. This enables an enjoyable theatrical detour to the opera house and her appearance as the wicked witch in Johan’s newly composed Hansel & Gretel ballet. Gabriella is a fabulous dancer and becomes a terrifying witch as a nightmare in Lottie’s dream with a powerful menacing nightmare song in ‘Take One or The Other’forcing the parents to choose between the girls Dramatic lighting by Johanna Town is particularly effective here.
Louise Gold clearly enjoys her role as housekeeper Rosa to Johan and has a great rapport with Lottie (Emme). Michael Smith-Stewart as Rosa’s suitor and Johan’s friend Dr Stroble also gives a warm performance and their humorous observational duet ‘It’s Not For Me To Say’, is witty and fun.
A strong cast facilitates several other effective supporting characters and cameos and everyone is notable and noticed, including a wonderful group of children at summer camp.
Tom Curran’s orchestrations are superb, especially at the ballet, and mention must also be made of Caroline Humphris’ detailed and tremendous work as musical supervisor.
Identical is a beautiful new musical for all ages from 6 to 106.
It looks and sounds stunning and underpinning every scene are Stiles & Drewe gorgeous, elegant, intelligent songs that warm the heart and make you smile.
An unlikely story but an absolute affirmation of the human need to connect, belong and love.
And the twins are simply awe-inspiring!
Mozart to Musicals
(Reviewed Friday 2nd August 2022)
2hrs 40mins including interval
Identical runs at the Nottingham Playhouse until August 14th.
Tickets: 0115 941 9419 nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk
Identical then runs at The Lowry, Salford from August 19th to September 3rd
Tickets 0343 208 6000; thelowry.com
Photography by Pamela Raith.