Interview: Dominic Hedges, The Doppel Gang

“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.

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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.”

Photo credit: Tom Barker

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.

Review: Blue on Blue at Tristan Bates Theatre

Dysfunctional family relationships get a fresh angle in Chips Hardy’s Blue on Blue, which ventures into areas other writers may fear to tread. A dark comedy about a wounded ex-soldier and his mentally fragile nephew, Blue on Blue is an intense and fast-paced examination of human relationships and the damage that can sometimes be inflicted by the very best of intentions.

Former soldier Moss (Darren Swift) lost his legs to friendly fire while in combat, and now lives in a small, run-down flat with his nephew Carver (Daniel Gentely). The two have a fraught relationship, and what initially seems to be banter turns nasty when Moss reveals he’s been having weekly visits from Marta (Ida Bonnast), a perky Hungarian carer who’s unwittingly been going above and beyond her job description. Inevitably, the two men embark on a battle for Marta’s attention, which has unexpected consequences for all three of them when it becomes clear Moss isn’t the only one in need of help.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Neither of the male characters, on first encounter, is particularly likeable – both are foul-mouthed (the language in the first five minutes is not for the faint-hearted) and quick-tempered, and Carver’s a convicted burglar while Moss is an unashamed misogynist. Yet there are unexpected moments of tenderness and vulnerability between them as the play goes on that reveal there’s a lot more to their relationship, and it’s in these moments that actors Darren Swift (himself an ex-serviceman, who lost his legs to a terrorist bomb in Northern Ireland) and Daniel Gentely really shine. Ida Bonnast’s Marta, on the other hand, has the opposite trajectory; she starts out as a ray of sunshine in the men’s lives, but by the end of the play her presence has begun to feel intrusive and unwelcome.

Photo credit: Gavin Watson
Photo credit: Gavin Watson

Harry Burton’s production moves along rapidly, and while this maintains the energy of the play, there are times when the dialogue is delivered so quickly that it’s easy to miss important plot details. On the other hand, the scene changes seem to take an unnecessarily long time – with each scene quite distinct from the others, this doesn’t necessarily interrupt the flow, but it does contrast oddly with the rapid pace of the rest of the play.

Blue on Blue – a military term for friendly fire – subtly draws out the various ways in which the well-intentioned actions of allies can have catastrophic and life-changing consequences, not just in combat but in life in general. It’s a play that possibly needs to be seen more than once in order to unravel its multiple layers of meaning, but even on a first viewing Hardy’s writing provides plenty of food for thought.


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