This is an implausible musical, and you may spend the overlong first half feeling underwhelmed. But the ending is deeply moving – proof of sorts that master technicians are at work.
Directed by Trevor Nunn, with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe respectively, Identical is based on Erich Kästner’s novel Das Doppelte Lottchen, in which twin girls separated as children meet at a summer camp and switch places when returning to their respective homes. Screen adaptations paid dividends for director Nancy Meyers in 1998 and for Disney in 1961, both using the name The Parent Trap.
The obvious obstacle to putting the story on stage is the necessity for twin actors. At the Nottingham Playhouse premiere, Eden and Emme Patrick, one of three sets of twins cast for this production, took the spotlight (and shared the curtain call with Kyla and Nicole Fox and Savannah and Sienna Robinson, all of whom will play the roles).
The production is blessed with the Patrick sisters, who are comfortable on stage and, importantly, likable; the first half has little conflict, inoffensive songs and lashings of sincerity. When we meet a cast of pre-teens in the opening number, audiences will think of Matilda, but there the similarity ends. While that show is subversive, Identical is earnest and played with the straightest of bats.
It all pays off in the second half, when Nunn, Stiles and Drew begin to push the buttons they have so skilfully put in place. Nunn’s affinity with Shakespeare’s plays about twins is plain to see: he mines the emotional connection to give a satisfying, almost Shakespearean denouement. There is also an echo of another story of twins separated at birth when Emily Tierney, as the mother of the girls, has a showstopper of a moment with The Whole World at Their Feet, which evokes Blood Brothers’ Tell Me It’s Not True.
It takes a while to get the engine going, but once it’s at full speed, you relax knowing the best in the business have built this machine. This will surely transfer, tighten and become a firm family favourite.
At Nottingham Playhouse until 14 August