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NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Sir Trevor Nunn and Kenny Wax are Putting on a Musical in Nottingham

24 October 19 interview: Rebecca Buck
photos: Tom Quigley

One of them is the multi-award-winning producer of The Play that Goes Wrong, Top Hat and Six. The other is one of the most legendary figures in the history of theatre, winning numerous Tony and Olivier Awards, directing the likes of Cats, Starlight Express and Les Misèrables, and being named by The Telegraph as one of the most influential people in British Theatre. Together, Kenny Wax and Sir Trevor Nunn are launching Identical, a brand-new musical premiering as part of the new season at Nottingham Playhouse… 

Tell us a bit about Identical
Kenny: Identical is a brand-new stage musical adapted from the book, Das Doppelte Lottchen, which was written in the late 1940s. Disney turned into a film called The Parent Trap in 1961, and it was remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan. We don’t want to do the movie on-stage though; we very much want to make an adaptation of the book. If you know the story, it can’t take place in a contemporary world because the girls would be phoning each other, and we need to keep them separate. 

Sir Trevor: It’s a fascinating project and, for me, it connects to the works of William Shakespeare. He was fascinated by the notion of twins, especially their being separated and discovering each other. He used them in comedy, and in Twelfth Night discovered that, not only is there potential for it being immensely funny, but also incredibly moving - especially if twins are able to reunite their parents. The novel on which Identical is based is brilliant at exploring all of those ideas and doing it truthfully.

Why do you think people are so fascinated by twins?
Sir Trevor: There’s something emotional that connects them. A wonderful actor named Alan Bates once came round to my place for dinner with his wife and twin baby boys. They were in separate cots, and when I went in to check on them they both grunted and turned over at the exact same time. It was the most extraordinary thing; it was like they had one mind, one breath. They were completely in touch with each other. I was overwhelmed to witness it. 

Kenny: It’s also a nature/nurture thing. Because the girls in our story are identical to look at, but they’ve been brought up very differently. One in Munich by a single mother who works very hard, while the other lives with her father, eats in hotels and enjoys quite a lavish lifestyle. They’ve grown up with a different mentality and they like different things, but there’s still a real spiritual connection. 

You’re both bringing a wealth of experience to the project. How do you think it will compare to other productions you’ve been involved with?
Sir Trevor: Good heavens! I have worked on a number of projects that are completely mad and crazy. If someone tells you that they want to do a show where everybody is going to be a cat, and we’re going to base it on some cat poetry by T.S. Eliot, that sounds absolutely doomed from the word go! Everyone I spoke to during the preparation for Cats sniggered and thought we were bonkers. Shortly after that we did a show about railway trains where everyone has to sing at forty miles per hour. I decided that they should be on roller-skates, as that was the only production idea I could come up with. That was Starlight Express. Of course, Identical has got a bit of madness involved because we have to find a number of pairs of talented twins. 

Kenny: I’ve never produced a show with children in the lead role, so that’s quite a big deal because it means you have chaperones, tutors and a very different casting process. We have to scour the country to find completely identical pairs of female twins aged between eight and ten and, if we literally can’t find them, there will be no show. So, the pressure’s on and the stopwatch is ticking!

It’s obvious that Nottingham is extremely enterprising and has all sorts of exciting, new projects. It’s great to be slotting into a period of work where there are high expectations and a lovely energy about the space

What still gets you excited about starting a new project?
Kenny: It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to create, and when the idea was first suggested, my mind started ticking, thinking of how I was going to put these pieces together.

Sir Trevor: It’s almost impossible to put your finger on it. Sometimes you feel that you’re going to be the wrong person or a project just doesn’t ring your bell, but other times, your imagination is triggered by something. The most important thing in my life is the works of William Shakespeare, and I’ve done all 37 of his plays. I don’t know whether anyone else has done that – you can’t really get any luckier. I get intrigued when something reminds me of a Shakespeare play, or a story that I feel he would have been fascinated by. 

This is a really big deal for Nottingham’s theatre scene in general, and specifically for Nottingham Playhouse. What made you choose the city?
Kenny: Trevor said something very specific when we first met. We were originally going to open this show in a much bigger theatre and he said, “No, this is a small story. It’s a big adventure but in its central position you’ve got these very young girls”, and that we needed it to be in a Playhouse.  I offered him some thoughts and he got very excited about Nottingham Playhouse, and here we are. 

Sir Trevor: I first came here at the very beginning of my career, and I’ve returned a few times over the years, so it’s lovely to be back. It’s obvious that Nottingham is extremely enterprising and has all sorts of exciting, new projects. It’s great to be slotting into a period of work where there are high expectations and a lovely energy about the space. And of course, we are part of a great tradition; so many shows have started life at a regional theatre before finding their way to London, where a show can turn from a certain small-scale delight into a long-running piece, because of the vast local audience and tourist audience that you can call upon. For Nottingham to be our first home, in that great tradition, couldn’t be better.

Identical is part of Nottingham Playhouse’s Spring 2020 season. 

Auditions for identical twins will take place in Nottingham on Saturday 26 October. For more information or to enquire about an audition, email [email protected]

Nottingham Playhouse website

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