Based on the beloved children’s novel The Parent Trap, Identical is a new musical which follows separated-at-birth twins Lisa and Lottie, two very different girls with one shared goal – to bring their family back together. Amelia Gibbs reviews.
As someone who has loved musical theatre since I was young, I was thrilled by the opportunity to see a brand new children’s musical, which I know I would have been itching to see as a child myself. With a cast bursting with new and young talent, a brand new soundtrack, and a new take on a well-known beloved story, Identical had all the ingredients for a great show that could join the ranks of the well-established children’s theatre scene in the UK. Sadly, Identical did not quite live up to my optimism.
The show is unapologetically twee and dials the quaint sentimentality up to 11, the show is unfortunately considerably less exciting because of this. There is a distinct lack of conflict which gives the plot no real stakes for the audience to invest in – the father’s new fiancée Miss Gerlach is likely intended as the plot’s big baddie, though her character commits no real treachery and the obstacle she poses is overcome with very little climax.
Many of the locations are convincingly portrayed, some even stunningly beautiful
Children’s theatre does not have to be quite so cutesy, and in fact most beloved children’s shows aren’t – think of Miss Trunchball from Matilda, or the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Identical would have benefitted from remembering that.
Still, there is a lot of good to be said about the show. The set is made up mostly of video screens representing the various locations, enriched with additional pieces of set. While I would usually be sceptical of an over-use of screen technology in a theatre show, video designer Douglass O’Connell and set designer Robert Jones manage it wonderfully. Many of the locations are convincingly portrayed, some even stunningly beautiful, and I often found myself forgetting that I was looking at a screen rather than a practical set-piece.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on a West End stage within a few years
The performances were also generally strong from both the adult and young casts. The stand-out from the adult cast was Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson as Miss Gerlach, who handled the slightly villainous and comic elements of her character impeccably, and delivered an exceptionally strong vocal and dance performance. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her on a West End stage within a few years.
From the young cast, Isabelle Larrey deserves a mention for her performance as Trude. In her professional debut, young Larrey was a huge presence on stage and, despite her relatively small part in the show, remarkably stole every scene she was in.
Sadly, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s score was mostly forgettable in melody and unimaginative in lyrics. The titular track Identical was perhaps the most catchy and enjoyable, while You’re My Sister and The Great Outdoors were also both pleasantly entertaining. Take One Or The Other, sang during a nightmare sequence, stands out for injecting some much needed wickedness into the otherwise sickly-sweet soundtrack. Sadly, none of the songs really hold a candle to the memorable and karaoke-worthy soundtracks of the many other children’s shows on the market right now.
It’s always worth supporting your local playhouse and a new piece of theatre
So, would I recommend Identical? I do think that, for the most part, children will enjoy it and there is enough there to keep parents engaged for the duration of the runtime. Plus, it’s always worth supporting your local playhouse and a new piece of theatre if you can, especially when the show is as full of young, new talent as this one is. That being said, it is difficult to argue that Identical is really a rival to such well-loved shows as School of Rock and Matilda, which are currently making up the children’s theatre cohort in the UK.
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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