Tristan Bates Theatre, London – until 11 February 2017
Guest reviewer: an anonymous theatre professional
If you’re a Marx Brothers fan like myself, you might go to this production by the company JUST SOME THEATRE with some trepidation. Are these four performers going to do justice to the Brother’s brilliant form of slapstick comedy? It’s nice to report that the answer is yes. The company’s attempt to create new Marx Brothers material is actually the strongest part of this show.
A down on his luck theatre manager, Lombard (Jake Urry) is running a London theatre revue in the middle of blitz ravaged London during World War II. One of his actors has left, leaving with him with just three – Cyril (Jordan Moore), Tommy (Peter Stone) and Rachel (Rachel Hartley). Lombard begs all three of them to stay on with the show. In a feat of panic they decided to try out some sketches based on…(you guessed it.) They seem to have hit on a winning formula when the show is interrupted by a German bombing raid. This leads them to a bunker underground where they discover hidden comedy material belonging to Winston Churchill. The material, as luck would have it, is unperformed Marx Brothers sketches. The team then go on to perform these sketches to resounding success.
Where the show succeeds is in the performance of these sketches written by Dominic Hedges. There are also nice touches as classic moments from other Marx Brothers films are added. Sensibly, I don’t think any of the actors have worried about trying to do an exact imitation of the each of the brothers. Instead they use themselves to create their own version. Jordan Moore and Peter Stone in particular do an excellent job of finding their inner Groucho and Harpo respectively.
What doesn’t work as well is the main plot of the show, which feels slightly contrived and could easily be condensed so that we get to the show’s main appeal sooner. Also, there isn’t a sense of the character’s life outside of the theatre. There are obvious comparisons to be made to Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser where the characters are battling each other and the German bombs as they attempt to complete a performance of King Lear. The problem with the The Doppel Gang is that the stakes don’t feel as great and one doesn’t feel as engaged in the character’s stories.
The technical aspects of the show are excellently done. The audience gets to see the backstage life and the actual ‘performance’ simultaneously. This effect is done quite effortlessly on the small Tristan Bates stage. Special mention therefore to Mitchell Reeve for his lighting design and for the cast who built and designed the set themselves.
JUST SOME THEATRE are an exciting young company and its good to see a fringe company attempting something challenging and different such as this. For the most part they are successful and it’ll be interesting to see what productions they attempt in the future.