first night

The Doppelgäng

Nikhil Vyas opens this year's First Night Programme with a look at an external Assembly Rooms show.

The Assembly Rooms rarely hosts shows from external companies, so I was intrigued at the prospect of experiencing some theatre in Durham coming from outside the DST bubble. In this case, the show in question was The Doppelgäng, a piece of new writing by Dominic Hedges commissioned by Just Some Theatre Company.

Set in wartime Britain, The Doppelgäng follows the exploits of a struggling theatrical troupe, made up of Cyril, Tommy and Rachel, and run by Lombard. Upon discovery of some hidden, unproduced material from the Marx Brothers, they are given the opportunity to turn their fortunes around by staging it. It transpires from reading the programme that the relentless slapstick and witticisms of the Marx Brothers are a central inspiration for Just Some Theatre Company's ethos, and their love for the work certainly is evident throughout the production. Unfortunately, as a philistine who's never seen any Marx Brothers material, such a focus was largely lost on me; and so my thoughts on the show are tainted with this bias. As such, the majority of the audience certainly loved the piece, with constant laughter throughout.

For the most part, the show was an enjoyable experience, holding attention till the end and with a real air of professional slickness. This was especially evident in the set design, costumes and props, which genuinely recreated the aesthetic of 1940's Britain- attention was even paid to the style of newspapers. One particularly impressive recurring device came from the usage of curtains as an onstage/backstage divider- we saw the backs of the actors through these curtains, performing to an imaginary audience, with imaginatively deployed lighting that reflected the sensation of being onstage. Such moments showcased an intelligent directorial vision which dealt with potential staging problems in a creative way.

Nonetheless, there were certain issues which, if resolved, could have made it an even more impressive and enjoyable experience. While the script featured quick-paced, witty dialogue, it attempted to combine slapstick, dry comedy, melodrama, romance, and social critique, with mixed results- it was difficult to put a finger on what tone a certain scene was taking, or the overall message was trying to be delivered, leaving a sense of confusion at frequent points. I also felt there could have been a deeper exploration of the characters of Cyril and Tommy, both from the acting and writing. So much of the story rested on their shoulders, that a stronger connection with the audience in their emotions and fates would have gone a long way. Nevertheless, the cast did well dealing with a dialogue heavy four-man script, with strong performances coming from Peter Stone and Rachel Hartley. Stone's clipped, classically British mannerisms as Lombard provoked both amusement and pitying sympathy, while Hartley's passionate turn as Rachel powerfully captured the sense that her character was the wisest and most insightful of the group.

As previously stated, a lot of the joy in watching this show came from experiencing a highly polished show from a 'real-life' professional company, in DST's own Assembly Rooms. The team behind The Doppelgäng deserve praise for their commitment and originality, and hopefully with a couple of tweaks to the show's structure and tone, they have an exciting production to take on their tour.


30 September 2015

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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