Review: Dr Livingstone, I Presume at Exeter Phoenix

Exeposé Arts online (6 March 2015)

As the rest of Exeter stayed home to fill their faces and Instagram feeds with pancakes on Tuesday 17 February, Miracle Theatre presented Phoenix audiences with the oddest set of ingredients known to humankind – yet somehow managed to cook up a storm.

Dr Livingstone, I Presume was a musical celebration of one man who set out to discover Africa, another who set out to discover him. Oh, and the women as well. None of this patriarchy prattle. Through a hotpot of musical theatre, comedy and interpretive dance, Miracle’s four-strong cast scoffed at chauvinism, imperialism and general stupidity, while keeping things wonderfully silly – and not entirely sober – themselves.

“I hate audience participation. Probably even more than you do,” grumbled Ben Dyson, whose supply of grumpy charm and hard liquor never ran dry as he guided us through the mayhem. Meanwhile, Ciaran Clarke won us over with cheeky grins and perfectly refined silliness, Holly Cassidy switched seamlessly between long-suffering wife and sassy Queen Victoria, and Giles King added Victorian explorer, shrill woman and dancing caterpillar to his repertoire of hilarious transformations.

Of course, it was all absolutely bizarre – and when the curtains opened on the first number, we still didn’t really know what to expect. Then the music started. Oh no. This felt like pantomime. And I’m so not a pantomime person.

Yet as I glanced furtively around, wondering when to start forcing out polite chuckles, I clocked grins. Giggles. Guffaws. Soon outbursts of laughter peppered the crowd. Then something even stranger happened. Was those my chuckles?

Oh yes. Apparently I was enjoying this – as were the rest of the audience. Was it the painstaking grace of Cassidy’s flamingo dance? The technical faults and backstage squabbles we were never quite sure weren’t real? Dyson’s slow descent into drunkenness? It was hard to put a finger on exactly what made this musical mash-up work so well – but whatever it was, it gave us a madly amusing couple of hours.

All sounding a bit confusing? Don’t worry: it was. The menu promised a tale of voyage and discovery, and while the story itself boiled away to nothing (I’d forgotten who most of the characters were before they reappeared), the Cornwall-based group served up a night of eccentricity and hilarity for all ages – and left us more than satisfied.

>>View original Exeposé Arts review>>


Photo: Miracle Theatre

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