Following a successful tour in 2015, Just Some Theatre Company have brought their Marx Brothers inspired play to London’s Tristan Bates Theatre. Rather than straight impersonations, the play looks at the performers inspired by Groucho, Harpo & Chico, allowing for some Marx moments to be dotted throughout.
It’s the middle of World War Two. Lombard’s theatre is failing, he has mounting debts and all of his acts are jumping ship. He manages to persuade Cyril, Tommy & Rachel to stay on, on the condition that they’re allowed to use some new material. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Cyril plans to perform a brief Marx Brothers skit – it goes down a storm until the air raid sirens sound. In a bid to escape the bombs, the four find themselves in some abandoned tunnels, the contents of which seem set to revolutionise their act…
For me, it simply doesn’t live up to any expectations. It is billed as a comedy, though the jokes are few & far between – and often fall quite flat. Where it does show some spark of potential is in the several Marx Brothers scenes in the second act. Filled with slapstick, wordplay & fast-talking, this is the kind of thing you might have expected from the get-go. Instead, we get odd subplots about Tommy’s reasons for not fighting, and something vague about women’s rights; it’s full of ideas but none seem to develop anywhere near enough in the time they’re given.
And that’s another thing: the running time is approximately 100 minutes, which includes an interval. The break is there to allow the set to be changed, however the cast spend half of the show moving the set around – after a while it becomes rather tedious, particularly if the scene is short. As a result it’s quite a stop-start affair, and adding an interval seems rather unnecessary. What the whole thing needs is to be fleshed out a bit. This would solve the problem of the lack of story development, as well as justify the need for an interval.
There is ambition shown in the layout of the stage, however far too much time is spent with things going on in the background – it either shows action onstage, so the actors have their backs to the audience, or show backstage moments making the foreground redundant. The sound for these occasions is also a bit odd; the actors seem to be wearing mics but it really does look and sound like they’re miming, which is not a great effect.
Most consistently entertaining throughout the course of the show is Jordan Moore, as Cyril & Groucho. He has natural comic timing, and portrays Cyril as the most relatable of the four characters. Peter Stone & Jake Urry come to life in their characters’ Marx Brothers guises (Harpo & Chico, respectively), whereas Rachel Hartley has more to do in the role of Rachel (rather than the Marx character Collette).
The programme for the show has offered me the perfect quote to sum up my feelings on The Doppel Gang: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening… But this wasn’t it.”
My verdict? More tragedy than comedy, the only light relief comes in the second act Marx Brothers skits – wouldn’t you rather a night at the opera instead?
The Doppel Gang runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 11 February 2017. Tickets are available online or from the box office.