Identical review – a new musical of The Parent Trap has its own special effect

Erich Kästner’s 1949 novel The Parent Trap tells of identical twins separated as babies when divorcing parents each take one. Ten years later, the girls are reunited accidentally at a summer camp. Adapted twice by Disney, the magic of film made us believe that one actor was two sisters (Hayley Mills in 1961, Lindsay Lohan in 1998). Identical, a new musical version of the story instigated by producer Kenny Wax, uses a more potent magic: real twins play the lead roles. At the performance I saw, these were the excellent Savannah and Sienna Robinson (other performances feature Kyla and Nicole Fox and Eden and Emme Patrick). Although the stage decor is stunning (a continually surprising combination of old and new – video projections on to flats and backdrops), it is these two small girls who provide the most amazing visual effect of all. “You have my face!” Lisa exclaims the first time they meet: they seem indistinguishable.

As the story shows, however, there is more to an individual than their appearance. Lisa and Lottie’s distinctive tastes and abilities become apparent when they sneakily swap lives. Lisa’s composer father (James Darch) is amazed by his daughter’s hitherto unsuspected talent for music, while Lottie’s journalist mother (Emily Tierney) is delighted by her girl’s newfound enthusiasm for camping. The tale of a fractured family reunited resonates, parable-like, in our present, fractious time. In the final family reunion, what moves both parents and audience is the way the girls’ individual talents combine to create a new song – and establish family harmony.

Stuart Paterson’s book follows the novel in setting the action in Munich and Vienna of 1950. While the period look is entrancing, some lingering, last-century attitudes jar: the calculating, man-catcher portrayal of the composer’s ballerina girlfriend, in particular, strikes a sour note. George Stiles’s new music, though, is emotionally pitch-perfect, now bright, now dark, now surging joyously, coupled with witty lyrics from Anthony Drewe. Direction, as might be expected from Trevor Nunn, is elegant and performances are both sharp and warm, but the production’s greatest strength is the magic of the identical girls.