Marx Brothers-inspired The Doppel Gang transfers to London’s Tristan Bates Theatre from 11 January to 11 February 2017, after touring the UK. Its writer, Dominic Hedges, told Break a Leg about the show.
Tell me about The Doppel Gang and your inspiration for it.
The Doppel Gang is set in a failing theatre, in the last few years of the war, and follows a crap double act dodging conscription. Tommy wants to earn enough from the show to pay his debts and leg it, whilst Cyril dreams of being as successful as Groucho himself. Events conspire toward a highly illegal but highly lucrative ‘Marx Bros.’ performance which could make them rich forever.
My father is a very funny man and brought me up on classic British comedy. We could easily hold a conversation made entirely of Fawlty Towers, Alan Partridge et al references. I’ve not written much comedy before so my starting point was to try and write something that would make him laugh. I loved the idea of pitting us up against our American cousins. Groucho Marx’s quick putdowns vs Eric Morecambe’s pained looks to camera.
Was it easy to put it all down on paper?
No! I felt like my comedy heroes were watching me and telling me I wasn’t funny enough! I spent loads of time taking out jokes, putting jokes back in, rewording, rephrasing etc… I’d watch hours and hours of shows, both British and American, to try and channel that tone, rather than just rip it off. But it’s all important. I guess at some point I eventually began to canter with the story and the characters started writing themselves. I could write it for another ten years and not be totally happy with it.
Is it translating well from page to stage?
The rural tour the guys did was brilliant. I saw it a few times and it was getting tighter and tighter. There’s a lot of physical comedy in it and the cast really own their performances. The play messes around a lot with action off and on stage, in the wings, in the greenroom, there’s a lot of whispers and wonderings of who can hear what when. Terence Mann (the director) is visionary and the things he can do on stage are fantastic, he has really brought all of it to life. I can’t wait to see it again.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the production?
If they come away thinking they’ve heard even an echo of Marx Brothers wit or are reminded just a bit of some of the British comedy greats of old, I’ll consider it a job well done. If people went in not knowing or liking the Marx Brothers and come out searching stuff on YouTube, that’d be amazing.
Finally, any advice for budding writers?
What?! It’s me who’s the budding writer! My main words of advice would be to find people who you love, call yourself a group of writers (which you are), meet together, eat together and share your work together. Nothing is more uninspiring than a word document.
Thanks for the interview, Dominic, I hope to watch this in the New Year!