The Venetian Twins (Villanova Players)
Ron Hurley Theatre
November 26 – December 11
1979’s “The Venetian Twins” actually opens in the home of the Judge of Verona (Barry Haworth) where his shrill daughter Rosina (Lillian Dowdell in a strong performance) decries that her heir-to-a-fortune fiancé Zanetto (Nikolai Stewart) is a shameless fool. Ocker boy-from-the-bush Zanetto, meanwhile, is confused as to how to woo a woman. He is one of orphaned twins, the other being the dashing Tonino (also played by Stewart), who lives in Venice, from where Beatrice (Amelia Burton) is running away to be with him, despite Tonino’s friend, Florindo (Daniel Buckley), who is secretly in love with her, telling her not to go.
Italian settings aside, there is a very Shakespearean feel to things through the story’s confusion arising from mistaken identities, accidental poisoning, a multi-coupled day-of-judgment conclusion and even a balcony scene….. all with an Australian flavour. The fast-paced two-act musical version of a classic Italian comedy features lyrics by Nick Enright and music composition and arrangement by Terence Clark in its adaption from an 18th century commedia dell’arte play by Carlo Goldoni. With both separated-at-birth twins preposterously turning up in Verona, one for an arranged marriage and the other to meet a girl who has run away from her family to find him, there ensues many instances in which they are mistaken for each other. The resulting chaos includes duels, betrayals, spats, arrests, a casket of stolen jewels, singing, dancing and more, meaning that there is a lot going on in Villanova Players’ boisterous season closer, which necessitates a large cast, helmed by Stewart as Tonino/Zanetto.
Doing double duty as both twins is a big ask and Steward delivers well, switching flawlessly between the two and defining each character clearly with help from a hat and an accent as Zanetto. He brings much humour to the dim misunderstandings of country bumpkin Zanetto in his initial interactions with his betrothed Rosina and he confidently handles necessarily ad-libs in Tonino’s Act Two venture into the audience in search for a purse of riches. Also of particular note is Florindo (Daniel Buckley) who shows committment to the exaggerated physical comedy of his role, prancing about the place with absurdist flamingo-like movements. And stepping into the minor role as maid Colombina, Michaela Gallagher demonstrates clear, expressive vocals and some fine comic moments, especially in interaction with Peter Cattachas as Zanetto’s servant Arlecchino, who Colombina hopes to wed. Unfortunately, however, Andrew Alley is let down by distracting microphone crackles that not only continue, but increase into Act Two, meaning that we never really get to appreciate the comic villainy of his performance as the Judge’s loyal friend Pancrazio. The most compelling of all performers is Amelia Burton as Beatrice who combines on-point comedy with an operatic voice. Act One’s Spanish sounding ‘Gypsy Love’ is a lovely introduction to the calibre and range of her vocals (olé!) and when her bonnet comes off in Act Two anger at perceived rejection by Tonino who is really Zanetto and ‘his’ cruel deception of having an apparent mistress, things crescendo into a resplendent reprise of sorts.
Under the lead of attentive musical director Ben Richards, the band (of also Monique Matthews, Elliot McGuire, Mitchell Bell, Phil Kan and Abbie Chadirchi) contributes to the light-hearted flavour of themes, fancying things along though a lengthy Act One. Richards’ light and bright piano evokes the pleasantries of civilized society before its farce factors in and the score’s variety is truly showcased, along with the band’s versatility. McGuire’s clarinet adds crow flight sounds as part of Act Two’s mock ‘hometown’ song, ‘Jindyworoback’ (the one horse northern Italian town to which Zanetto wants to return when sick of Verona), and then lures us into Zanetto’s lovely below-balcony duet pledge of devotion to Rosina.
‘The Venetian Twins” is hugely irreverent in its tone. As the twins fall in and out of favour with the same two women, its script features an array of malapropisms, puns and even a tongue-twister scene (featuring a particularly vocally nimble Haworth). There are also many meta-theatre moments through acknowledgement of the orchestra and questioning to the audience as to character whereabouts, pantomime like. With a chase scenes and alike into the audience, there is no getting away from the players, particularly when gleeful servant Arlecchino attempts to entertain us with some interval magic, until full-of-himself foppish fool (Caelen Culpeper), who is also crazy about Beatrice, comes out to seek assistance with a search. The show includes some very funny, often unexpected moments, such as when Zanetto shares what throwing himself off the stage would look like. It’s a long show though, in part due to the repetition required to labour the funny of some of its jokes and sometimes humour comes across as overly forced, such as with insert of local mentions of Star Casino and the Hemsworth brothers.
“The Venetian Twins” is a paradoxical work of complicated plotting of confused identities and mistaken assumptions, but also base level comedy, meaning that it offers something for everyone. Justice may be served in the end, but along the way, the farcical roller-coaster romp rollicks into some very funny, perhaps unexpected places and Villanova Players makes the journey to them a very enjoyable one.
Photos c/o – Christopher Sharman Photography