The Doppel Gang: What can The Marx Brothers tell us about identity today?

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Dominic Hedges’ comedy The Doppel Gang, which transfers to London’s Tristan Bates Theatre this month, centres on four hopeless entertainers devise a plan to save their theatre from closure, by masquerading as The Marx Brothers. It’s director Terence Mann’s third production for Just Some Theatre Company…

It would appear Just Some Theatre Company are developing a certain penchant for the past and a fascination for influential, iconic figures from a time and a world far removed from their own. In 2012, I directed their production of Coward, a speculative piece looking at the exploits of Noel Coward in the 1920s and as I write this, we are nearing the end of rehearsals for their follow-up production, The Doppel Gang. This latest offering is set during the Second World War and was inspired by the inimitable Marx Brothers.

In the last thirty years or so the accelerated growth in technology and social media along with what feels like the globalization of everything, we are, it seems, increasingly pre-occupied with now and the future. In such a world, it is somewhat unusual and quite refreshing to come across a young company with a taste for what went before.

Yet interestingly, Just Some, in collaboration with writer and fellow University of Central Lancashire graduate Dominic Hedges, have created a piece that concerns itself with issues that are as important today as they were seventy odd years ago: the role of art/entertainment in society, gender equality and our ability to laugh and love in the face of adversity. At the heart of The Doppel Gang lies the question of identity on both a personal and cultural level.

The fictional company, decide take on the identity of the iconic American trio at a time when the influence of US culture in Britain was palpable. The expansion of the US film industry in the 1930sand 40s played a huge part in the migration of American culture, and whether it was for better or for worse, British culture has never been the same since.

Whether it’s on stage, big screen or small, with stories which involve portrayals of real life people, there is inevitably always a curiosity as to how authentic the interpretation will be. The cast – Peter Stone as Tommy/Harpo, Jake Urry as
Lombard/Chico, Rachel Hartley as Rachel/Colette and Jordan Moore as Cyril/Groucho – are actors not impersonators or lookalikes. From day one I discouraged the cast from getting too obsessed with trying to look exactly like the Marx Brothers.

We have put a lot of time and detail into characterisation and when you add to that, dialogue which actually sounds like the sort of thing the Marx Brothers would say, Bob’s almost your Uncle, but of course the final piece of the jigsaw is in the hands of the audience. If all that stuff is right then it’s easy…especially if you want to believe. At times in rehearsal, I sort of forgot I wasn’t watching the Marx Brothers. If the audience believes, then they might just catch a glimpse of them too.

The Doppel Gang runs at London’s Tristan Bates Theatre from 17 January to 11 February 2017. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.

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MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.

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