Erich Kästner was an exceptional writer of fiction for children (Emile and the Detectives is perhaps his best known work). Identical is a new musical adaptation of another of Kästner’s tales, Lisa and Lottie. If you’ve seen any of the film versions of The Parent Trap, you’re probably familiar with the the plot.
Two 10-year-old girls – confident but grumpy Lisa and shy but stubborn Lottie – meet for the first time at a girls’ summer camp. To begin with, it’s not a happy encounter, made all the more fraught by their uncanny resemblance: “That girl’s got a nerve. Turning up here with your face!” exclaims one of Lisa’s cronies.
Soon, however, the truth dawns on them – they are twins, separated (they know not why) at birth. While Lisa has grown up with their father (a conductor/composer) in Vienna, Lottie has lived with their mother (a journalist) in Munich.
Overjoyed and overwhelmed to have found each other, they sing the show’s stand out number, “You’re My Sister” in a lovely, tear-jerking scene. (Hats off to Kyla and Nicole Fox, this evening’s Lisa and Lottie).
“My family tree just grew another twig.”
In a ploy to gain publicity for her summer camp, the forbidding Miss Mathesius (a marvellous Louise Gold) has a photo taken of the two girls, arm-in-arm. “Even their parents couldn’t tell them apart,” she says, prophetically. The twins hatch a plot.
Switching clothes, hairstyles and suitcases, they will trade identities, so that each can spend time with the parent she never knew existed.
Despite the differences in their personalities and aptitudes (Lisa is bold and good with words, Lottie is a musician and a scholar), no one guesses the truth. Each grows to love her “new” parent (those first encounters are genuinely moving). The sisters keep in touch via a weekly covert phone call.
All goes well until Johan (their father) proposes marriage to Miss Gerlach, a beautiful but ambitious ballerina (a multi-skilled role filled with grace and steel by Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson).
What can 10-year-old Lisa and Lottie do to save the day and reunite their family?
Director Trevor Nunn chooses to return the story to its original time (1949) and locations, allowing costume designer, Jonathan Lipman, some fun with lederhosen, while set designer, Robert Jones, moves us, with style and aplomb, from lakeside to mountainside, trackside and back street Munich to café and salon Vienna. Particular credit must go to Douglas O’Connell’s animated backdrops (it’s like watching one of Hergé’s Tintin books come to life) – a joy.
Your ticket gets you 16 songs, 3 reprises, 1 finale. It’s a lengthy show (almost 3 hours counting in the 20 minute interval) but, on this evidence, even quite young children seem to handle it. It’s pacy, with enough wit, intrigue and charm to hold the interest (90% of the time).
Matt Cole’s choreography is cosy and perhaps a little old-fashioned, but it works for the piece. Orchestral manager, David Gallagher, gees along George Stiles’s songs (orchestrated by Tom Curran) and keeps all on a tight rein. At their peak, Anthony Drewe’s lyrics prompt smiles and even occasional laughter.
The adult cast has fun, even playing second fiddle. James Darch’s Johan exudes boyish charm, while Emily Tierney as Lisalotte makes a Truly Scrumptious mum. Louise Gold switches from the sonorous Miss Muthesius to the long-suffering but dignified housekeeper, Roza, and we’re glad that she wins the heart of the noble Dr Strobl (Michael Smith-Stewart – like having your pulse taken by a young Trevor MacDonald: irresistible).
The evening, however, belongs to the young ‘uns, as it should.
“Children are a curse/ And twins are even worse!” chants the witch in Lottie’s nightmare.
Not a bit of it. Take a bow, Kyla and Nicole!
Identical is at The Lowry from 19 August to 3 September 2022 before continuing on tour. Age Guidance 8+
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