JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE VENETIAN TWINS at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 2.5.15.
4 stars ****
HERE’S A TIP. IF THIS LONG general election campaign is getting you down, if you feel you’ve seen enough leaders’ debates to last you a lifetime, and if you crave nothing more than a two-hour interlude of daft and inventive comic bliss, then get thee immediately to the Lyceum Theatre, where – to judge by the roars of relieved laughter that greeted last week’s opening performance – Tony Cownie’s new version of this grand old 18th century farce by Carlo Goldoni is meeting a deep need among battle-weary theatre-goers.
All comedy needs a theme, of course; and no play as well-structured as this is ever completely vacuous. In Goldoni’s case, though, the themes are so timelessly familiar – the tensions of class, the foolishness of the young, the vanity of the old, and the agonies of love – that Cownie and his ten-strong company have no difficulty in sweeping us off into another world of sustained comic foolishness, where long-lost identical twins Tonino and Zanetto criss-cross the streets of a fictional Verona, causing endless misunderstandings of the most predictable yet irresistible sort.
Admittedly, Cownie has his wicked way with Goldoni’s script, updating it from the 18th century to an imaginary Victorian age full of new-fangled steam trains and debate on the woman question. And along with his terrific all-star company, Cownie has translated the play into a rich and endlessly entertaining range of Scottish vernaculars, from the “pure dead brilliant” Glasgow chat of Zanetto’s love, a dim-witted heiress called Rosaura with a fine line in malapropisms, to the ever-more hilarious contrast between farmer Zanetto’s country-bumpkin Doric, and the orotund posh Scottish of his Venetian brother Tonino.
Yet in the end, all of this invention only adds to the essential comic energy of Goldoni’s plot, brilliantly captured by Grant O’Rourke in a shape-changing central performance as both Tonino and Zanetto, and resolved by Goldoni in the final act with memorable ruthlessness. Add a time-honoured streak of physical comedy and slapstick featuring a compendium of every old theatrical trick in the book, and a range of terrific supporting performances from Dani Heron as the gormless Rosaura (“he’s just a wolf in cheap clothing!”), along with Angela Darcy, Keith Fleming, Jessica Hardwick, Kern Falconer, John Kielty, John Ramage, Steven McNicoll and James Anthony Pearson, and you have two hours of unstoppable comic merriment; still a notch or two short of perfection, perhaps, but heading that way, with all the momentum of a runaway early steam-train.
Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, until 16 May.