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Review of The Doppel Gang at Tristan Bates Theatre

The Doppel Gang (Tristan Bates Theatre) - Jake Urry, Peter Stone and Rachel Hartley
The Doppel Gang (Tristan Bates Theatre) – Jake Urry, Peter Stone and Rachel Hartley

A show doesn’t have to have a credible storyline, but it helps, especially when the more absurd aspects of The Doppel Gang are also broadly feasible, even if only hypothetically. It is difficult, in a good way, to categorise a play of this nature – in the tomfoolery of a variety act that has seen better days, there’s the matter of the Second World War that dominates proceedings in this period piece. Appropriately, the war is treated with seriousness and solemnity; it’s far from being a straightforward comedy. But even ‘tragicomedy’ doesn’t quite cover what sort of show this is in its entirety, what with doors slamming, and elements of physical theatre.

I have, I realise, made the play sound unfocused, as though the kitchen sink had been thrown at it. I am pleased to report this is not really the case: it’s more that there are a lot of different elements and techniques that come together to make a cohesive whole. There are nods of acknowledgement galore to the play’s many influences, and a bittersweet ending provides the audience with a strong reminder of how hard-hitting the reality of life can be. The play does not, as far as I could deduce, take any stance on the war itself, beyond acknowledging that it happened and that the public continued to attend the theatre even during the Blitz.

Yes, ultimately, it’s theatre about theatre – there’s no point trying to get around that. It could have been a little pacier – on the other hand, it’s somewhat refreshing to come across a play that is happy to take its time and go gently. Excellent use is made of the available stage space, although this did occasionally mean some audience members had to strain somewhat to maintain a good sightline. A truly ensemble piece, there are no stand-out performances, insofar as they are all as delightful as one another (all four actors play multiple characters), despite the stresses and strains of wartime living and the consequences of previous actions.

A large proportion of the second half is taken up by a Marx Brothers act, and it goes on for so long that I began to wonder if the production had effectively abandoned its narrative in favour of paying homage to these comedy greats. But the storyline proper returns, and returns strongly, as the play journeys on to its explosive finish. This sometimes soft and sometimes forthright show has clearly gone through a number of revisions in its development. The result is a considerate and pleasant theatrical experience, either despite or because of (dependent on how one looks at it) an unexpectedly cataclysmic climax.

The mostly moderate tones are deceptive – backstage at the theatre can get hectic, and this show demonstrates that quite impeccably. All things considered, this is a thoughtful and entertaining piece of theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Comaweng

Four hopeless performers dare to impersonate The Marx Brothers, but who’s really being played by who?
As the Blitz tears through London, a group of hopeless entertainers devise a daring plan to save their theatre from closure, by masquerading as The Marx Brothers. If the audience falls for the act, their one-night performance could save the day, but is everyone playing the same game, or is there more going on behind the scenes at the crumbling old theatre than meets the eye?

CAST
Tommy/Harpo Peter Stone
Lombard/Chico Jake Urry
Rachel/Colette Rachel Hartley
Cyril/Groucho Jordan Moore

CREATIVE TEAM
Writer Dominic Hedges
Director Terence Mann

THE DOPPEL GANG
by Dominic Hedges
Tue 17 Jan – Sat 11 Feb 2017
https://www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk

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