A big fat thumbs up is in order for the New Theatre’s production of Nick Enright’s & Terence Clarke’s ‘The Venetian Twins’. This musical comedy, using Carlo Goldoni’s play as a basis and re-written to capture an Australian feel, has been given probably the best outing it could hope for what it is- a romping good frolic using the style and characters of Commedia dell’Arte.
The New Theatre, located in King St Newtown, is not afraid to take young fresh talent and new graduates and give them the chance to realise their vision on the New’s stage and from what I can see, the experiment is working very well.
‘The Venetian Twins’, directed by Mackenzie Steele, has great production values. This is as slick as any professional or mainstream production on at the moment and a much cheaper and enjoyable alternative. My top five big ticket items I liked about this show are as follows:
Jay James-Moody as the twins Tonino and Zanetto displays terrific comic timing whilst capturing instantly two distinct characters, accents and personalities. His ability to find the joy in each moment and letting the audience in on the joke every time was a pleasure to watch. We can’t help but love him. Why else would someone in the audience hand over their cash-laden wallet and laugh as he uses it on stage? Trust me- we would have given him whatever he asked for. A less confident actor would have crashed and burned in this demanding comic role but James-Moody gives it as good as it gets. I can only imagine in the touring Commedia dell’Arte shows of old that this is what it felt to be in the audience and react with glee at the shenanigans and lazzi of the characters.
The camp and cheeky villainy of the male cast was also a highlight. Dean Vince as Pancrazio, Stephan Anderson as Florindo, Andy Johnston as Lelio and Zac Jardine as Arlecchino were a fine support cast for Jay James-Moody. They matched his energy and presence and added to the thorough entertainment on offer. Their physicality, from subtle mannerisms, choreography and reactions to each other were clear evidence of a tight ensemble, well-directed and confident in execution.
Sean Minahan’s set design and Alice Morgan’s costumes were the perfect complement to this show. I sat next to a professional designer watching this show and even she had praise for the overall design. I loved the use of hessian and the chequered scrim, hiding the band and paying homage to the traditions of the comedy. Then the addition of frames and mirrors, rolling in and out and used to capture the vanity, frivolity and pace of the show was a lovely idea. Morgan’s costumes were also layered and colourful, especially for that of Beatrice (Marisa Berzins). And when the fans emerged, I went straight into an 80's music video clip and enjoyed it as much as everyone else in the audience.
The musicians knew how to play with the material and banter and even from their hiding spot, I felt like they were a character in ‘The Venetian Twins’. They found the way to respect the cheesy musical score and add to the comedy by allowing the characters to use the music to hit comic moments.
Final call out has to be for the director Mackenzie Steele by pulling all the pieces together and making great choices with them. This production felt as fresh as the team and it surprised me how much I enjoyed this relatively superficial comic play.
The production has a just a few minor bumps. Berzins sometimes had to force the comedy in her operatic interpretation and the relationship between Arlecchino and Columbina (Debra Bryan) lacked chemistry but you’ll hardly notice and you probably won’t care because the rest of the show is strong.
Thank goodness Sydney has so many great independent options for theatre scattered across the city. Get to them and this one won’t disappoint.