QTC’s production of The Venetian Twins is a most enjoyable demonstration of the fact that comparisons are not always odious. I went into the theatre with clear memories of the wonderful version put on by La Boite in the mid-’80s, with riotous performances by Drew Forsythe as the twins and Anthony Phelan as the superbly hissable villain, and wondered both whether this production could match those memories, and whether the musical itself had stood the very tough test of time. It is, after all, a ’70s update by Nick Enright (of the words) and Terence Clarke (the music) of a 1700s comedy by Carlo Goldoni.
Happily, the answers are yes and yes. Focusing on the time test first, not only is Enright and Clarke’s Twins as fresh and funny as ever it was, but it stands up very well in another comparison with the huge hit currently playing in Melbourne, of The Producers, which I had seen just the day before. And fun though The Producers also is, I’ve got to say that most of the music in that musical is pretty boring while the words and music in the Twins are a perfect match, with your toes tapping to the zippy and catchy songs while your sides are aching with laughter. This production is an absolute hoot, from three minutes into the show up to the fun-filled finish.
The slightly wobbly first-night start is due mainly to the blandness of the Judge, Penny Everingham, who takes a while to get into her vocal stride (but shows what she can do by the time of her big number), so that there isn’t the requisite spark between her and Mitchell Butel’s very dumb twin, Zanetto in the opening scene. But forgeddabout that, because it’s all set to rights as soon as Zanetto encounters the thrusting bosoms of the Judge’s equally intellectually challenged daughter Rosina, a deliciously hammy role for Carita Farrer. From that moment on, it’s a hilarious roller coaster ride for everyone in front of, behind and below the scenes. Because this is one of those shows where a vital and active role is played by every element of the production, from costumes and set design to the miracle of timing and co-ordination that is a sine qua none throughout, and not overlooking the delightful interplay (rarely made as explicit as it is here, in the Twins) between the actors on stage and the ensemble of musicians in the pit.
Director Michael Gow is well served by the likes of musical director Paul White and his ensemble, Fight/Slapstick director Scott Witt (whose talents are visible in just about every scene), designer Robert Kemp, choreographer Neridah Waters…… and all the rest of the production team listed on Page 3 of the program. And, oh yes, there is also the cast.
The queen of this cast is, without a doubt, the utterly superb Bridget Boyle, as twin Tonino’s Beatrice. She is a theatrical treasure of whom we have not seen nearly enough to date: a brilliant comedian with a virtually operatic voice that makes her mock operatic renditions of her several musical numbers an aural pleasure while she splits our sides with her glorious array of gestures, including a mini-homage to Munch’s recently stolen Scream. And she is well matched by Mitchell Butel’s flawless switches between the two twins who are identical only in appearance. As the bold and dashing Venetian sophisticate, Tonino, he does a mean Travolta in full Saturday Night Fever flight, that is as unlike as a pea and a pear in a pod from his long-lost, nasally congested and udderly befuddled country bumpkin twin Zanetto.
Although this is a play with a subtlety by-pass, and peopled with the whole gamut of music hall stereotypes, the witty one-liners and the general mayhem keep the laughter on the boil while the confusion between the twins is given a free hand to block each one’s every attempt to make out and make up with the woman of his dreams. And, of course, there are also the usual complications of competing suitors for the hand of each of the maidens, with Rosina’s being sought by the dapperly dressed and moustachioed Pancrazio (played impeccably by Sandro Colarelli, who captures the ambivalence of a villain who not only wants to be hissed, but kissed); and Beatrice’s by the frenetic Lelio (Bryan Probets, who skips around the stage like a demented cat on a hot tin roof), as well as by Tonino’s friend-in-a-dilemma, Peter Marshall’s Florindo. Marshall’s blond locks, surely intended as a homage to Tony Gould’s, get considerable hair play in that part. At other times, however (and as is not noted in the program), they are variously covered as Marshall takes on two other roles which are each laugh-aloud vignettes of humour: the policeman and the jeweller (whose death scene is quite priceless). In among all the mayhem the nubile lady’s maid Colombina (a feisty Rebecca Murphy) and the peppy gentleman’s gentlemen Arlecchino (Mark Conaghan in sparkling form) keep a wry eye on the goings-on while giving the glad eye to each other.
Bottom line? Everyone on stage is having fun, and it’s completely infectious. This is old-fashioned entertainment that hasn’t dated, and a show that all ages can enjoy together. So take the whole family! (We did, all those years ago, and our now adult children still look back on that production with fond memories.)