The Venetian Twins (Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh)
Tony Cownie adapts and directs an assured new take on Goldoni's classic comedy
You know exactly what you're going to get with this Venetian Twins as soon as you walk into the auditorium. The show curtain is a bright red tassled mock-up of an old Victorian proscenium. That, combined with the old fashioned shell footlights, tells you that you're in a world steeped in affection for a bygone era. The wonky Toytown sets and the brightly polychrome costumes all place the action at a safe distance, reinforcing the feel that this production is nostalgic but still very bright, and the choice of music underlines this, giving it something of a comic-opera atmosphere.
Goldoni's 1745 comedy centres on long separated twins who arrive in Verona, unbeknownst to one another, and the consequences that ensue. The central problem any director faces with a play like this, as with Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, is to find actors who look alike enough to be passed off as identical twins.
Tony Cownie's new version solves this by casting Grant O'Rourke as both twins and demonstrating their differences through very different language. Consequently, the noble characters in the play speak in RP English, while the less elevated characters all speak in very broad Scots. It's a clever way of solving the problem, and allows Cownie to lay on the Scots phrases thick: insults include "numpty" and "dipstick", with cracking phrases like "Yon's a crock o' jobbies." There are also plenty of metatheatrical jokes that draw attention to the device, acknowledging it while keeping it funny.
'The cast are a real treat'
Cownie's dialogue is sharp, witty and often scurrilously rude, with plenty of jokes about sex and authority. His direction manages to get the best of the physical comedy out of the cast too, with a recurring physical joke during the inn scene managing to stay funny after 20 minutes. I also loved the mime sequence that ended the first half, a neat summation of all that had gone before.
The cast are a real treat, too. O'Rourke is a powerhouse as the twins Zanetto and Tonino, slipping in and out of each part with apparent ease, and using his body language to illustrate which character he is playing before he even opens his mouth. Dani Heron as the gormless Rosaura and Angela Darcy as her scabrous maid Columbina make a great mistress/servant partnership, while Kern Falconer acts the father (and innkeeper) with just the right levels of camp.
James Anthony Perason hams it up brilliantly as the ridiculous cousin Lelio, while Jessica Hardwick's Beatrice manages to stay on the right side of indignation and John Kielty injects energy into the slightly superfluous role of Florindo. Steve McNicoll relishes every dastardly sentence he is given to roll around the mouth of Rev. Pancrazio.
It all comes together as more than the sum of its parts. The designs welcome you into the show's world, the hilarious script keeps it moving and the performances all bring it to life brilliantly. Ultimately, it's all about the mood, which is ebullient, effervescent, witty and very, very appealing. This is a great night out.
The Venetian Twins continues until 16 May