Last Updated on 23rd January 2017
The Doppel Gang
Tristan Bates Theatre
19 January 2017
Over the years, a number of theatrical reprises of the famed Marx Brothers have made their way through the schedules of some of our best companies, and here is another. Just Some Theatre may not be the most celebrated company to offer a reanimation of the infamous tricksters, but they are sure to attract some audiences on the basis of this welcome chance to see – live on stage – several of the comic troupe’s legendary sketches revived and given spirited committed performances. Their scripts were written by some of the finest comic writers of the day – George S Kaufmann, Moss Hart, Morrie Ryskind, S J Perelman – and they are worth doing again.
Added to this, author Dominic Hedges has scripted a drama around some workshopped material devised by the company – all graduates from the University of Central Lancashire – overseen by their trusty tutor and director, Terence Mann. Jordan Moore makes a passable Groucho, Jake Urry takes on Chico, Peter Stone does a Harpo, and Rachel Hartley does not – alas – become Margaret Dumont, but instead presents herself more as the type that played the erstwhile love interests once farmed out to Zeppo (who is absent from this re-creation). Hedges, scion inter alia of the Royal Court Young Writers programme, doesn’t try to ape the Marx house style, and prefers to write for the ‘real’ characters who decide to play them: a bunch of non-descript actors and a theatre owner, who – in the kind of backstage yarn that littered the entertainment fodder of the 1940s – have to put on a show to save their theatre from closure during the Blitz of the Second World War.
It’s a clever idea and it is handsomely presented with a terrific stage design (which, we believe, must be credited to the four-person company). Mitchell Reeve lights the show, and Mann handles the sound, filling as many moments as possible – and perhaps more than strictly necessary – with moody tracks, and much Al Bowley crooning… the latter signalling loud, loud, loud and clear what ultimate destination the play is headed for. This show has booked itself into the Tristan Bates for a four-week run.
It would be great if it all worked wonderfully well. The show, after all, has already toured and been worked on for two years. The play has many brief scenes, powerfully suggesting an intended platform of the television, and apparently craving speedy narrative progress, but here hamstrung by cumbersome scene changes. As things stand, there’s a big distance between the 21st-century colloquialisms and attitudes of Hedges’ backstage drama and the familiar set-pieces from the Marx Brothers’ films. Added to that, the plotting is very slow and lags by some margin behind the audience’s capacity to see where it is going, long before it gets there.
This is a pity. The young cast is energetic, lively and likeable: it would be great to see them with a more developed script, a tighter production and a script with as much wit and sparkle in the new writing as in the evocations of some of the finest comic routines ever created.
Until 11 February 2017
Photos: Mitchell Reeve