5 Star Review What’s On Cornwall

Miracle Theatre Company Dr Livingstone, I Presume? Grampound Community Hall

Review by Lee Trewhela

IF YOU want your Christmas to be even more merry, then book tickets for this gloriously silly show as soon as possible.

Every Miracle production is a guaranteed winner (literally, as their Waiting for Godot bagged our WOCA for best theatre show earlier this year) but this time they have outdone themselves.

As you can guess from the title, this is the tale of the Victorian explorer’s adventures in Africa and his bid to take the Gospels to the natives, as Stanley searches the continent for him.

Except it isn’t about that at all.

It’s all an excuse to study the minutiae of a frankly terrible repertory company, the Ffitch Players.

So we have master of ceremonies Julius Stentorian Ffitch seeking solace in drink as his rather weird relationship with wife and actress Sylvia Thespis Ffitch becomes even more dysfunctional – a “Freudian avalanche” indeed.

The company also includes the pompous Roderick Butts Mountebanks, Cockney chaffinch Isabel Cavell and Archie Snapper, a dodgy Music Hall comedian.

The play within a play works wonderfully with some memorable Variety song and dance routines, but it’s the behind the scenes malarkey that will have you crying with laughter.

To have a show featuring one towering comic actor is a joy, but Dr Livingstone is blessed with two, making it a must-see.

Giles King and Ben Dyson are sensational.

King, renowned for his work with Kneehigh yet appearing in his first Miracle show, is equally hilarious as the Dame Edith Evans-like Mrs Ffitch and naughty ex-con Snapper.

His interpretive dance of the “circle of life” as a Victorian woman playing a caterpillar morphing into a dying butterfly has to be seen to be believed. Dyson need only raise an eyebrow or enunciate a word in a certain way to make me weep – his turn as the embittered MC is one of the greatest performances I’ve seen in 2014. Absolute comedy gold.

However, let’s not forget Ciaran Clarke as Mountebanks and Holly Cassidy as Cavell – both extremely gifted actors and musicians. Indeed, Holly is the show’s musical director.

The entire crew deserve praise – the sets, backdrops, costumes and puppets are stunning thanks to Alan and Jude Munden, and Sean Donahoe. Steve Lawrence’s evocative music is just perfect while director Bill Scott and Steve Clarke’s script is a marvel. They manage to juggle so many ideas without dropping one (as it were).

It’s not often that I truly urge people to see a production, but Dr Livingstone, I Presume? is a rare exception. The perfect antidote to panto? Oh yes it is.