The Venetian Twins

March 31, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆   Finest farce

Hill Street Theatre: Wed 30 Mar – Sat 2 Apr 2022
Review by Tom Ralphs

Two years after they were meant to be bringing The Venetian Twins to Hill Street Theatre, Arkle Theatre Company’s production of Tony Cowie’s adaptation of the play finally made it to the theatre on Wednesday night. It was well worth the wait.

Director Phil Barnes brings out all the shining wit of Goldoni’s classic 18th century farce. Mistaken identity, unscrupulous noblemen, romantic and not so romantic pursuit of women – and large doses of innuendo, puns and visual gags – all get equal billing; working together to bring out the satire and laugh-out-loud humour in the script. If Shakespeare had really had a sense of humour and a love of the absurd, he probably would have written it two hundred years earlier.

Sinead Gray as Beatrice, Steven Bradley Croall as Zanetto. Pic: Arkle Theatre

The mistaken identity at the heart of the play comes from Zanetto and Tonino, estranged twins who both end up in Verona on the same day looking for brides to be. Steven Bradley Croall takes both parts and moves effortlessly between the wealthy but unsophisticated Zanetto and his more educated and eloquent brother who values more what a man is than what a man has.

Zanetto’s wealth is the reason why, in spite of his badly written request, the Provost (Brian Neill) is more than eager for him to marry his daughter Rosaura (Hannah Bradley Croall). Neill masks his motives at just the right point beneath the surface for them to be clear to everyone, while Bradley Croall works with the malapropisms that define Rosaura, using them to build a character that has a charm and sweetness whilst also coming across as naïve to the point of stupidity.

amusingly pompous

In another part of town, Tonino is travelling incognito from his home in Venice, in the hope of being reunited with Beatrice (Sinead Gray), the independent, intelligent woman he met and fell in love with before his departure. For older audiences, or anyone who has watched early morning comedy on Channel 4, Gray’s portrayal of Beatrice brings to mind Shelly Long playing Diane Chambers in Cheers, undoubtedly more intelligent than anyone else in the room, but amusingly pompous at the same time.

Hilary Davies as Brighella, Hannah Bradley Croall as Rosaura, Helen Goldie as Colombina. Pic: Arkle Theatre

While these are the main players in the story there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. Chris Allan gives us a sleazy clergyman in the form of Pancrazio, Rosaura’s teacher who is more obsessed with her beauty than her education, and determined to prevent the marriage going ahead.

As servants to Rosaura and Zanetto, Columbina and Arlecchino (Helen Goldie and Alastair Lawless) both possess intelligence, cunning and a sense of frustration with a world that has decided that they should be serving people who are clearly their intellectual inferiors. The upstairs downstairs nature of the society is clear in the way their own intended marriage is more as a result of their master’s nuptials rather than because they have any say in the matter.

deadpan delivery

Alistair Wales, playing Tonino’s friend Florindo who has been tasked with ensuring the two lovers are reunited, but who is himself in love with Beatrice, gives a deadpan delivery that suggests that he sees himself at one remove from all the frivolity around him. It contrasts well with Lelio (Mark Anderson), another rival for Beatrice’s affection, who is rightly portrayed as rich aristocrat whose possession of common sense is inversely proportional to his wealth.

Steven Bradley Croall as Tonino, Alistair Wales as Florindo. Pic: Arkle Theatre

Both of the main story strands have enough to create a classic comedy, but as the plots intertwine the scope for confusion, misunderstanding and chaos is raised several notches further. As both twins become involved with both women, the entrances, exits and costume and character changes that Bradley Croall has to go through become ever more rapid as the first act reaches a frantic conclusion.

It’s a struggle for the second act to maintain the same momentum however, although the opening scene has the best visual gag in the show as barmaid Flozzie (also played by Neill) continually tries and fails to avoid the trapdoor leading down to the cellar of the pub.

After that, as layer upon layer of misunderstanding, duplicity and deception are piled on top of each other, there is the feeling that the more clever wit and word play of the first act is being replaced by slapstick as we wait for the inevitable discovery by one of the brothers that his twin is also in town. Nonetheless, there is still enough to keep the laughs coming and a few final twists to keep audiences interested in the story itself.

relentless energy

Barnes has done a fantastic job as director working with a large cast and creating a production where there are no weak links. In an ensemble production such as this it is usually hard to single out individual performances for making the show a success, although in this case Steven Bradley Croall deserves full credit for making both of the twins distinctive, and for maintaining a relentless energy that drives the show.

Almost three years on from their last production, it’s great to have the company back on the stage.

Running time: Two hours and 5 minutes (including one interval)
Hill Street Theatre, 19 Hill Street EH2 3JP.
Wed 30 March – Saturday 2 April 2022
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Steven Bradley Croall as Zanetto, Chris Allan as Rev. Pancrazio. Pic: Arkle Theatre

ENDS

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