Dr Livingstone, I Presume, Miracle Theatre Company, Gillingham School and tour

USE THISMAGNIFICENT musical madcap mallarkey, maintaining momentum movingly, magically, melodramatically memorable, meaningfully, markedly mad miracle, is the sort of sentence that used to be greeted with oohs and aahs as Leonard Sachs, as Master of Ceremonies, introduced a variety act on the BBC programme The Good Old Days from the Leeds City Varieties, with seemingly endless alliteration, and Mr Julius Stentorian Ffitch drew a similar reaction as MC, as he introduced each act in the Ffitch Repertory Players’ presentation at Gillingham School’s Drama Studio. His company of five, played by four members of Miracle Theatre, entertained a full house with magic, music, song, dance, comedy, puppetry, ballet, poetry, slapstick, fire, limerick and good old-fashioned falling-down drunkenness.

The thoroughly decent Ffitch, played by Miracle Theatre regular Ben Dyson, was wonderfully reminiscent of early Hugh Laurie, with a hint of a young Prince Charles, and the onstage quarreling with his wife, Mrs Sylvia Thespis Ffitch, played by Giles King, formed one of the underlying subplots of the evening. Another was Mr Roderick Butts Mountebanks, played with accurate truth by Ciaran Clarke, thinking he was the best at everything, and trying to woo the young ingenue, Miss Isabel Cavell, beautifully played by Holly Cassidy. When Mrs Ffitch was locked in her dressing room, Giles King played the fifth member of the company, Mr Archie Snapper, and showed amazing versatility, not just by playing both these roles, but especially in his physical comedy and bad jokes, something he has honed over years of working with Kneehigh Theatre.

Dyson, Clarke and Cassidy worked together so well in last year’s Ffitch Rep production of Frankenstein, and they are clearly a great triple act, to which King has melded with no noticeable join. The only gaps in the show were designed to be there, and it was only the members of the fictional cast who were ever drunk, embarrased, nervous, pompous, or downright terrified: the actual actors played everything with a truth and reality which heightened the character and caricature in the roles they performed. All of the jokes and songs, apart from a few obvious pieces of popular and classical music, seem to be authentic Victorian Music Hall, but were actually written for the show by composer Tom Adams and writer Bill Scott, and they cleverly move the narrative along, whilst entertaining the audience and showing further skills of this talented cast.

These small-scale touring shows should be compulsory viewing, and the everyday gossip, these days around the metaphorical water cooler rather than on the Clapham omnibus, should be of the latest show at your local Village or School Hall, rather than the latest reality television programme or incarnation of Big Brother. If you have never been to such a show, look out for Miracle Theatre near you, or any of the other similar companies supported by Artsreach, and go and see it – if it is half as good as tonight’s show you will be revelling in it for days and days afterwards. If you have already been you will know what I mean, so your challenge is to take someone new with you next time!




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