This new musical doesn't do things by halves! In Identical, there is double the fun, double the mischief, and double the heart.
The show opens in a summer camp on Lake Bohren where, to the dismay of their frazzled camp leader (a frenetic but friendly Ellie Nunn), a new cohort of excitable girls are due to arrive for a month in the sun. It's a bright start - think "Welcome To Duloc" from the second Shrek movie, and you’re on the money.
Here, a bold Lisa meets a cautiously shy Lottie (played beautifully at this performance by Eden and Emme Patrick) and exclaims 'You’ve got my face!'
Photo by Pamela Raith
A childish rivalry prefaces an incomparable bond as the girls discover that they are identical twins. "You’re My Sister" is the first of beautiful duets; a love song in its purest form, followed closely by the deliciously sugared "If I Became You" as the girls hatch their body-swap plan.
In the spirit of mighty duos, songwriter and composer Stiles and Dewe are a pair who know how to write for twos. Famed for their additions to Mary Poppins and Half A Sixpence, the score, orchestrated by Tom Curran, is full of riches and classical influence. The lyrics bare a childlike sensitivity and the result is simply charming.
Douglas O’Connell’s slick video design seamlessly transforms the Playhouse stage using impressive moving screens. Paired with Robert Jones’ set, we follow the girls from their cosy moonlit dormitory to vast luscious green lakes, wander the streets of Munich and marvel at the architecture in Vienna. Jonathan Lipman's detailed costume design is inspired by the wonders of these locations, the changing weather and passing of time.
In the adult cast, Emily Tierney is a heavenly Lisalotte with a silk woven voice that could move mountains. As Johan, James Darch is intriguing – the musical scenes are wonderful, but like his counterparts; a loving housekeeper Roza (great comic Louise Gold) and Dr Strobl (Michael Smith-Stewart), he's robbed of any back story.
Instead, we have twee repeated motifs about little white birds, wolves and fear that err on fairy-tale, as well as an extravagant party scene that could be mistaken for a royal ball.
Thankfully, Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson plays the part of poised antagonist Miss Gerlach devilishly well. Matt Cole choreographs a sublime ballet sequence for "Hansel and Gretel" that adds a much-needed degree of darkness.
Photo by Pamela Raith
Gloriously, both Lisa and Lottie are granted wicked one-liners that zing their individual personalities and help to link the two and their individual ways of thinking. This, paired with the Patrick sister’s expressive faces and self-assured body language make them a joy to watch - their energy surely heightened by sharing such an experience with your sister.
Stuart Paterson’s book is written with care and reflection; there is strong, positive commentary on the love that flows between untraditional families that shine brightly along the talent on the stage.
Under Trevor Nunn's direction, Identical feels timely with its easy humour and catchy numbers. With a running time longer than a flight from Nottingham to Vienna, the show starts to feel repetitive as you impatiently itch for the inevitable happy ending. But, when it comes, you realise you’re actually a sucker for it.