“The secret of good comedy is barking up the wrong tree,” says Dominic Hedges, a theatre and filmmaker from East London. His play, The Doppel Gang, is following up last year’s successful tour with a run at the Tristan Bates Theatre in the new year, presented by trio Just Some Theatre Company. Set in 1940s London, the play fuses the comedy of the Marx Brothers with classic British humour, against the all too serious backdrop of the Second World War and the Blitz. “Four conscription-dodging spivs try to save their crumbling theatre by impersonating the Marx Brothers, but naturally each party is in it for themselves,” summarises Dominic.
The idea to write a play about the Marx Brothers came from Just Some Theatre Company: “They love the Marx Brothers! They approached me to write a piece for them and after a ton of knocking ideas about we decided that an out-and-out biography wasn’t what we wanted. So I took the floundering, double-dealing, British motley bunch route of old.”
So is this only a play for fans of the Marx Brothers? “No,” says Dominic. “It’s not a Marx Brothers tribute act. The show plays more as the recognisable British wartime drama-comedy where threads are pulled and twisted between characters, and misdirection and miscommunication lead to hilarious consequences, but then with this fat vein of Marx Brothers performance and wit bored through it.”
Generally considered to be among the most influential comedians of the 20th century, the popularity of the Marx Brothers continues to this day: “I think they tell jokes which we think we can write ourselves,” explains Dominic. “On paper they vary from rubbish Dad jokes to ingenious turns of phrase and wordplay. But when you hear the jokes delivered, especially when you watch them on film, each move of their comedy is unique and unmistakable. When U.S. film became more prevalent in the UK we lapped it up.”
As a writer, Dominic has no qualms about handing his work over to a theatre company. “It’s exciting. The director Terence Mann is fantastic and we read from the same page more often than not. He knows what’s best for the show when they’re all in the room working and that’s something I had no interest in sticking my nose in! If it’s not as I envision it that’s probably a good thing. Having said that, if the zero-gravity scene on wires made the cut, I’ll be having words…
“My advice to a writer who’s just starting out would be: meet up with other writers, performers, artists, anybody you trust artistically, and read your work aloud. It’s the best thing in the world. Life is not a word processor. When I have serious doubts about my career choice it’s almost always because I’ve not heard my work aloud for a good while.”
And finally, who does Dominic think is funnier, Brits or Americans? His response is diplomatic: “Hmm… hard to say, but in a contest between the two, one of them is bound to win!”
The Doppel Gang is at Tristan Bates Theatre from 17th January-11th February.