While most of the rest of the country were sweatily pressed up against one another in a pub garden, anxiously watching England take on Sweden in the World Cup quarter-finals under unrelenting 30 degree sunshine, I was happily sat in Polka Theatre’s cool auditorium. All of us experienced drama, all of us watched a game of two halves, but while there are calls for Gareth Southgate to be knighted, Jacqueline Wilson is already a dame. With such fantastic source material – her 1995 book Double Act – it would be almost impossible for Vicky Ireland’s adaptation to go wrong, but Messi plays for Argentina and where are they now? Happily, this remounting of Ireland’s show, which was an instant hit when it premiered at Polka Theatre in 2003 and was loved by thousands of children during a UK tour, scores once again.
The novel is written in the style of a diary, with 10-year-old twins Ruby and Garnet taking it in turns to write as indicated by their different penmanship. In the stage play, the girls take the audience, rather than an old accounting notebook, into their confidence through a series of monologues, cleverly keeping the novel’s distinctive and engaging first-person (or should that be first-people?) narrative. Here is where we first learn that though they may look identical, move in sync and finish each other’s sentences (or spookily say the same thing, spontaneously, at the exact same time), the twins are actually very different. Ruby Ablett vividly captures the outgoing, funny, bossy Ruby, to Lydia Orange’s well-realized Garnet, who is sensitive, shy and bookish.
Though temperamentally opposite, Ruby and Garnet are bestest friends. Events of the last few years have only brought them closer together: their mum got ill and died, Gran’s arthritis became so bad she had to move into sheltered accommodation, Dad started seeing frizzy dizzy Rose, and now they have to live with both of them in a new house in the countryside, away from their school and all their friends. Everything is changing, eventually even them – what happens when a double act need space? Double Act navigates the tricky terrain of growing up and growing apart, identity, independence and friendship, with humour and sensitivity.
The twins’ costumes – for the majority of the play, they are in matching yellow floral blouses with a Peter Pan collar, first with dungarees then a matching long skirt – seem an oddly antiquated choice, particularly as they bop around to Ariana Grande and Little Mix. (In the book, they used to wear Gran’s frilly home-made frocks before her arthritis got worse and they happily made the switch to shop-bought stuff). Throughout her career, Jacqueline Wilson has aimed to depict the reality of children’s lives, and the events of Double Act could certainly have taken place today, so having Ruby and Garnett look so unlike the audience in front of them unnecessarily separates their world and ours.
Ultimately, though, on this historic day – the first time we’ve qualified for the semi-finals since I was born – I think I’m the real winner. I spent my afternoon watching one of my favourite books brought brilliantly to life, and then emerged, blinking into the daylight, to join the throngs chanting “Football’s coming home.”
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