What a good idea. A failing theatre troupe, finding unperformed scripts by the Marx Brothers, decides to masquerade as the comedy greats… for one night only. Suspending disbelief is part of the fun. Seeing the character’s troubles and rehearsals provides behind-the-scenes mayhem and, with accomplished comedy writing, the whole thing is hugely entertaining.
There are some problems, the most obvious coming from the production. Terence Mann’s direction is slow, with time often wasted moving things around between scenes. Mann seems enamoured of background music and, even worse, recorded dialogue that sucks the life out of scenes painfully quickly.
With my sympathies, the cast mime their lines well. But they are a lot better when they speak out loud. Jake Urry makes a credible spiv impresario, despite the role really needing more mature casting, while Rachel Hartley makes you want to see more of her character. As the tired comedy duo forced to take over the show, Peter Stone and Jordan Moore have a great chemistry – both can boast a natural stage presence – and Moore deserves special praise for bravely taking on the iconic figure of Groucho Marx with such care.
Playwright Dominic Hedges, with nerves of steel, replicates the Marx material well. But the real story here is backstage and this could have been elaborated on much more. The material has potential, as do the characters who all beg to be fleshed out further. Two examples: it wouldn’t hurt to know earlier on where and when the play was set, and a romantic subplot suffers from too little development too late.
If this sounds like a lot of criticism, many points are relatively easy to implement. The cast can clearly deliver and the creatives produce a good story. With a few tweaks and some extra polish, this play could have a very bright future. As it stands, The Doppel Gang is still well worth seeing.
Until 11 February 2017
Promotional photo by Tom Barker. Production photograph by Mitchell Reeve