The Venetian Twins

Apr 29 2015 | By More

★★★★☆    Double the fun

Royal Lyceum Theatre: Fri 24 Apr – Sat 16 May 2015

Broad, finely honed and never afraid of a corny joke, The Venetian Twins is a huge, rip-roaring thing. It is all rather silly, but is none the worse for that.

Tony Cownie’s new, and defiantly Scottish, adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s 1747 play follows in a distinguished tradition.

Kern Falconer as the Provost and Grant O' Rourke as Zanetto Photo Alan McCredie

Kern Falconer as the Provost and Grant O’Rourke as Zanetto. Photo: Alan McCredie

The Lyceum company’s first-ever production nearly fifty years ago was Victor Carin’s Scots version of Goldoni, The Servant of Twa Maisters, while One Man, Two Guvnors successfully updated Goldoni in London recently. This production, however, stands very much on its own merits.

If you have seen Two Guvnors, you will not be surprised by what happens here. The twins of the title are the glaikit Zanetto (in town to meet his fiancée Rosaura) and the suave Tonino, escaping from scandal but pursued by his intended Beatrice. Naturally, complications and misunderstandings ensue in a plot that owes much to the same source in Plautus used by Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors.

Grant O’Rourke plays both twins in what is a comic tour de force, often entering as one twin seconds after exiting as the other. Apart from one jacket button done or undone, the only differentiation between them comes from O’Rourke’s tremendous command of accent and physical comedy.

There are some equally good performances in the rest of the cast. Steven McNicoll’s Pancrazio, a hypocritical man of religion that shows Goldoni’s clear debt to Moliere, is a pitch-perfect portrayal. Rosaura’s father the Provost, shows beautifully what Goldoni’s theatrical achievement was – he owes everything to the stock figures of the commedia dell’arte, but Kern Falconer’s blisteringly funny portrayal makes him recognisably human.

timeless yet somehow very modern

Dani Heron’s Rosaura is a Scottish Mrs Malaprop, managing to be timeless yet somehow very modern, wringing every last drop of humour from what could easily be a stereotypical ‘dumb blonde’. Angela Darcy and Keith Fleming, as the servants Columbina and Arlecchino, also combine very old and recognisable characters with something up-to-date and Scottish, being particularly successful at breaking the fourth wall.

John Kielty as Florindo , Grant O' Rourke as Tonino and James Anthony Pearson as Lelio Photo Alan McCredie

John Kielty as Florindo, Grant O’Rourke as Tonino and James Anthony Pearson as Lelio. Photo: Alan McCredie

John Kielty (Tonino’s friend Florindo) and John Ramage (the Provost’s servant Brighello) display consummate comic timing, with Ramage in particular showing how to make the most of every opportunity.

Perhaps most crowd-pleasing is James Anthony Pearson’s ludicrous sword-twirling fop Lelio, goggle-eyed and providing his own sound effects, bearing no apparent resemblance to any real human.

Jessica Hardwick (Beatrice) perhaps suffers from the decision to update the story to apparently late Victorian times. She is presented as a proto-feminist, and does not have as much comic material to work with as most of the others.

As well as a liberal helping of one-liners both old and older, the humour comes from a wide variety of sources – there is a rather obvious riff on Monty Python’s parrot, for example – but the clearest influence is that strain of open-hearted Scottish comedy that stretches back at least to the days of the music halls. This chimes with the circa 1900 setting, but there are clear nods to a variety of more modern sources ranging from Jack Milroy to Gary Tank Commander. The most obvious reference point, however, is that most popular inheritor of this particular comedy gene, the modern Scottish pantomime.

It is undoubtedly as a panto that this production is best enjoyed, with the proviso that some of the language – not to mention the industrial-strength double entendres – mean it is hardly one for all the family. Tony Cownie, of course, is as much an expert in panto as any other form of theatre, and he ensures that it all roars along. If, at times, the jokes are a little too old, or a situation is milked just a little too long, it is all part of the fun.

Claire McKenzie’s music sets the scene beautifully, while Neil Murray’s set is aptly exaggerated as well as being extremely clever when used for O’Rourke’s frequent entrances and exits.

In the cold light of day, there will probably be doubts as to whether this version could ever work again. Perhaps the occasionally ragbag nature of the script would stop it working with anyone other than an expert director and a top-notch comedy company. But, since that is what we have on this occasion, it hardly matters. It’s here right now and it’s very, very funny.

Running time 2 hours 40 mins (including interval)
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street EH3 9AX
Tuesday 24 April to Saturday 16 May 2015
Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30 pm, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2.00 pm
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