REVIEW: THE DOPPEL GANG (Tristan Bates Theatre) ★★★★

The Doppel Gang is a failing, discouraged theatre company, working in a crumbling old theatre, with just a week to go until they have to permanently close down due to lack of punters. The company try pretending that they have more actors than they actually do, with quick costume changes and changed voices, but to no avail. They simply are not very funny and the audience lets them know it.

The company members are understandably dejected and some are preparing to leave the company altogether. Then, by pure chance, fate offers them a daring and delightfully dishonest way to try to give the company a last minute reprieve.

The action takes place in London during the blitz and the Luftwaffe are thoughtlessly disrupting theatrical performances throughout London by dropping bombs on the theatres. The Doppel Gang happen to find, in the theatre’s bomb damaged basement, an unperformed script that The Marx Brothers appear to have intended to perform in front of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and other big wigs. At the time the Marx Brothers were very popular comedians and Hollywood film stars and the Doppel Gang sensed that there was possibly a financial killing to be made.

In order to win over their small and unappreciative audiences and put bums on seats, they decide to dress up and claim to be the real Marx Brothers and to produce a show based on their newly discovered script. Surprisingly the audience is fooled by the ruse and the show proves a very popular success.

This production of The Doppel Gang succeeds, due largely to the excellently written script and also to the sheer charm and humour of the four cast members. Peter Stone as the harp carrying Harpo, Jake Urry as the wise cracking Chico, Jordan Moore as the main man, Groucho and the lovely Rachel Hartley as their female fellow actor, the beautiful, Collette.

As a long time Marx Brothers fan, The Doppel Gang was, at the time of watching, a bit of a disappointment for me. I had hoped for more. More Marx humour, more Marx silliness and more Marx mayhem. However, of course, in retrospect the cast were not playing the Marx Brothers but they were playing actors pretending to be the Marx Brothers. So there is an intertwined story which also needed to be told.

The production is excellent and the cast, whilst looking away from us, (the real audience) and playing to an unseen imaginary audience behind the back of the stage was very effective. The back of the stage was obscured by a craftily lit screen which was both a clever and effective device.

The Just Some Theatre Company was formed in 2012 by Jake and Peter with the stated aim of producing high quality tour productions. In this they have succeeded.

This production was directed by the excellent Terence Mann who is an experienced actor and director in theatre, television and radio. A special mention must go to playwright Dominic Hedges on some fine, humorous and outrageous writing.

If you get a chance, start the new year with a laugh and go to see The Doppel Gang, you won’t be disappointed. Go while you still have a little Christmas spirit left. Just remember that “………. there Ain’t No Sanity Clause?” (Marx Brothers, Night At The Opera, 1935).

Reviewed by Graham Archer
Photo: Mitchell Reeve

THE DOPPEL GANG plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 11 February 2017