The Twins, we are told, is Truer than Fiction.
Director Terry Serio describes it as Theatre vérité. Whatever it is, it is a strange version of Truth or Dare. Joined by plot contrivance in a Geelong Grammar production of The Comedy of Errors, Greg Fleet and Ian Darling are the Antipholi – one, Antipholus of Ephesus, the other, Antipholus of Syracuse. It was the making of their friendship – and their lifelong link to the theatre, also perhaps a metaphor for their enduring sense of mistaken identity.
The premise of this show, which premieres at the Adelaide Fringe before going on to stints in Sydney and Melbourne, is that Fleet and Darling talk about their beginnings, their middles, and, if not their ends, their future intentions.
They sit at a table and return to the script. The Comedy and the Errors. Of which there is plenty of both. As they reminisce about their English class from 1977 or so, with formative texts such as The Removalists and Peter Brook’s The Empty Space, they also intersperse rather wincing bursts of the theme tune from The Patty Duke Show – another case of displaced twins.
Lurking among all this is a sense of discomfort about… Privilege. I am a white man, Fleet intones at the beginning. I am a rich white man, Darling is required to add. But as they remind us, they are narrating their story as it happened, warts, diamonds and all.
Yes, Greg Fleet went to Geelong Grammar – on a scholarship. And Ian Darling and his class were told to be nice to Fleety because his father had recently committed suicide. Ian Darling, meanwhile, was descended from a wealthy grain dynasty. His family lived in Toorak and his father was a financier.
Which was why, when he and Fleet were planning to audition for NIDA to study acting, Darling backed out because he felt duty bound to become a stockbroker to please his paterfamilias. It would be many years before he took up his vocation as a documentary film- maker and philanthropist.
As for Fleet, the renowned stand-up comedian, he was accepted into NIDA but later expelled because of his heroin problems – about which much is said during the course of the show.
There is something both fascinating and perilous about The Twins. It is confessional, awkward, sometimes mawkish. The two talk incessantly about themselves, their doubts, their shame, their small-minded self-concerns. They sing raucously to ’70s tunes and declaim chunks of Shakespeare
At times we are watching a private conversation getting out of hand and we don’t quite know where to look. But it is intrepid in its candour – and remarkable in the depth and constancy of their friendship.
The Twins is, above all, about two long-standing pals whose paths have diverged so much that they ought to be total strangers. But here they are, like the latest version of 49 Up, confirming their affection like Estragon and Vladimir, returned from Ephesus and Syracuse.
The Twins is playing at Holden Street Theatres until March 21.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.