New musical Identical is safely entertaining in the family-friendly hands of Trevor Nunn and Stiles and Drewe at Nottingham Playhouse
“Making it up as we go along”
I’ve never actually seen The Parent Trap, either the 1961 or the 1998 films, so I was able to approach new musical Identical with relatively fresh eyes. All are based on Erich Kästner’s novel Das Doppelte Lottchen which tells of twin girls separated at birth, reunited by chance some years later and opting to live each other’s lives for the lolz. But with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and direction by Trevor Nunn, that sense of freshness isn’t always so readily apparent.
Stiles and Drewe have made an impressive career of retro British musicals (Mary Poppins, Half A Sixpence, The Wind in the Willows, Betty Blue Eyes) and here, that vibe is very much present even if the setting is altogether more Germanic here. And as is often the case, the balancing act between family-friendly and straight up twee is one which has to be negotiated constantly, not always successfully. And Nunn’s predilection for stately and traditional direction means that it is often a slog, particularly in the overlong first act.
Fortunately though, this production has been blessed with some extraordinary casting, not least because there are three sets of twins who are sharing the lead roles of Lisa and Lottie. I saw Emme and Eden Patrick (Kyla and Nicole Fox and Sienna and Savannah Robinson are the others) and if Stuart Paterson’s book is a little earnest in its straight-forwardness, the Patricks both found emotional depth to accompany their sweetness – after all, we’re talking about some seriously traumatic shit here if you pause to take in what’s actually happened!
But whilst I might have wanted the Brothers Grimm version of the tale, this determinedly family-friendly version knows what it is doing. Robert Jones’ set and Douglas O’Connell’s video design work wonders to move us around Germany and Austria – the split screen sections are particularly effective – and a committed adult company add ballast without detracting from the twins’ limelight: James Darch and Emily Tierney are moving as the parents; Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson a revelation once again when she dances. You feel it is a limited run though rather than a long-runner when it comes to the presumed West End ambitions- entertaining rather than essential.