It’s the 1940s and The Blitz is tearing through London. In a small failing theatre, a group of performers devise a plan to gain success and make a quick buck by masquerading as The Marx Brothers. Fusing classic British comedy with the endless energy of the Marx Brothers, The Doppel Gang will curb January blues by transporting the audience back to wartime London and providing plenty of belly laughs. We spoke to the playwright Dominic Hedges about writing his first comedy play, his difficult relationship with word processors and how kids are generally better performers.
London Calling: Can you tell us a little about The Doppel Gang?
Dominic Hedges: It’s a wartime comedy which follows a double act trying to save their failing theatre. They stumble across an ingenious idea to masquerade themselves as the Marx Brothers for a one night show to make money, sort out dodgy debts and rationing cards. As the play goes on you start to wonder who is playing who and how much of this is what it seems to be.
It’s quite self referential as a piece. One of the characters has an obsession with the Marx Brothers, essentially because the American stuff was a lot funnier than the English stuff. It’s supposed to be a little bit of a reference to the Americans coming to Europe to help us with the war, and suddenly there was this influx of film, comedy and art. Culture became a lot more Americanised.
LC: Was it difficult to translate the Marx Brother’s style of comedy to the stage?
DH: Yeah it was difficult, I didn’t want people to come and see it and just think ‘oh they’ve just ripped off Day At The Races (Marx Brothers film)’ When I wrote the Marx Brothers scenes I tried to see how much I could recall from memory, and how much I inherently knew.
LC: The Doppel Gang explores the idea of masquerade and impersonation. What drew you to exploring that in the play?
DH: Because I loved this idea, I think Alfred Hitchcock said it, ‘Acting is a shy man’s revenge.’ The idea of theatre making people who aren’t able to do what they want to do, and they literally become a character, and the relationships that develop between these people taking on a new persona on stage, communicating about real-life events through the art of performing.
LC: How is it different from your previous work?
DH: It’s comedy! One play I wrote was about sex trafficking, and you can’t get a lot of laughs out of that. It’s one thing to write about dark topics and find the humour in any situation, and it’s another thing writing an out-and-out comedy. Comedy scares me. When I see something that’s funny or makes me laugh, I’m a little kid backstage saying ‘how did you learn all the lines?’ I just don’t know how they do it. It’s also the first play I’ve written as purely a writer, the first thing I’ve written and handed over, which has been great because I don’t know comedy as well as the guys making it.
LC: What do you love most about playwriting?
DH: It’s the performed piece. I don’t want to sound like I’m being mean, but me and a word processor just don’t get on. The best thing about playwriting is sitting opposite someone else talking about it, or hearing my stuff being read aloud, there’s nothing like it. Really writing for me is the bit I have to get past to be able to create work with my peers and people I respect. I do like words and writing, but it’s not the best bit, let’s face it.
LC: You’ve worked closely with young people to create theatre. Why do you think it’s important for young people to engage with it?
DH: Generally children are better performers than adults are. It’s a bit of a misnomer that kids are playing all the time, I don’t think they do, I also think they are thinking a lot. Kids naturally have a yearning for performance, and I like working with young people because I don’t consider it young people’s theatre, it’s just theatre really. Even though I do write scripts for them, the majority of the work is done in the room, and within the process. Their playfulness is what makes it, I’m just sort of the go-between.
The Doppel Gang runs 17 January – 11 February, tickets are £16 and £14 concessions. Find out more here.