The Venetian Twins is a musical farce, an Australian show by Nick Enright and Terence Clarke that manages to draw on commedia dell’arte and bush Australia stereotypes all at once to create something that is, in places, genuinely hil
Based on a Carlo Goldoni play, it has all the staples of commedia dell’arte: exaggeration, distortion, comedy, the prototypical characters; throw in some good old Venice/”the country” divisions that might as well be Sydney butting heads with Broken Hill and you’ve got a story of mistaken identity, love, villainy, and good old physical comedy.
The New Theatre has built this production nicely into its season. It doesn’t overreach its grasp; the set is built (by designer Sean Minahan) with intimate knowledge of the theatre and the actors are aware of their stage, their audience, and plays to their strengths accordingly. There’s something very comforting about watching a production that knows exactly which theatre it’s in and what it can achieve in the space; there’s no wasted air, no words lost in strangely empty space. The Venetian Twins is full of colour and transmits that colour directly to the audience, with thanks to Mackenzie Steele’s tight direction.
The costumes do what they must do; it’s retro pastiche meets humor, ably handled by Alice Morgan, who ensures the requisite commedia mask-like faces are all in place. But the champion of this production is the ensemble; the actors run this stage and make this piece, which could be shaky, really work.
The star, with his usual star-level charisma, is one of the best figures in Sydney independent musical theatre, actor/director/producer Jay James-Moody, playing the lead role of the eponymous twins. He trades plummy vowels and doublets for broad Australian accents as he dances nimbly between the roles of city and country twin respectively. The best thing about James-Moody though is his capacity for comedy – he shines in roles that have a little meat to their quirk (both seasons of [title of show] and Ordinary Days were other shining examples in his humane and endearing eccentric character wheelhouse) and this role is no exception.
He is best matched in terms of comic timing and sheer naturalness on stage with Stephan Anderson, who is certainly someone to watch with a natural talent for comedy and a wonderful voice. In his role as Florindo, friend to the ‘rich’ twin Tonino and scheming for his love, he shone. People will leave this show wanting to see more of Anderson, and I hope they get that wish.
The other standout performance from within the cast is Dean Vince, who plays villain Pancrazio with a delightful panache; his evil is the kind you dearly, dearly love to hate. He was hissed on cue and perfectly menacing; commedia encourages his kind of broadly comic villainy and Vince did not disappoint.
This show is well worth seeing for simple, wonderful reasons: The show is well-written, classically structured, and funny. The actors are extremely talented. The production isn’t pretentious in the least. It’s nicely priced and it’s a brilliant inner-west night out.