Along with my year eleven drama group I attended the opening night of the Manchester Palace Theatre professional production “Dr Dolittle”. The trip took place on Monday 5th November and featured Tommy Steele; a relatively famous actor. The production was based on the books written by Hugh Lofting rather than the Hollywood film featuring Eddie Murphy; yet the novel was adapted for the stage and re-written by Lesley Bricas.
Through having only watched the Hollywood film and not experiencing the original version I had some preconceptions which were extremely incorrect. I had expected a more classic and sophisticated musical rather than a larger than life, pantomimesque melodrama! This brings me to a comparison with another production I previously saw at the venue; it was named “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” a more convincing and emotional piece, I shall use the production as a brief contrast to Dr Dolittle highlighting its strengths in order to emphasize the aspects in Dr Dolittle that could be improved.
The onstage production of Doctor Dolittle is an amalgam of overacting berserk ideas it casts larger than life characters, extravagant costumes and a very clever use of the stage; this combined creates a fun; ridiculous, yet entertaining musical! Despite being written in the 1930’s and 1940’s Hugh Lofting set his novel in the Victorian era. Placed against the backdrop of the conservative, prudish Victorian characters the ideas seem even more ridiculous; the novelist had no political agenda he simply had a farfetched and eccentric humor that resulted in the creation of some extremely entertaining novels. The Dr. Dolittle novel in particular was greatly inspired by the writers adoration for animals he imputed into this an immeasurable abundance of his vivid imagination which brought alive the storyline itself.
The plot concerns Mr. Dolittle, an extraordinary and eccentric Doctor who cares more about animals than his human patients! The Doctor lives in the country with his dog, Jip, his parrot Polynesia, his pig, GubGub, his duck, DabDab, his monkey, CheeChee, and an owl, TooToo. He soon discovers through Polynesia that it is indeed possible to communicate with animals! Polynesia teaches him for years the languages of several animals enabling him to interact with hundreds of various species. One of these many species is the lobster, he decides to learn this language in order to communicate with the undersea creatures; he wants to do so because he plans a voyage across the ocean in search of the ‘Giant Sea snail’!
He planned also that on his voyage he would discover the North Pole, the simple fact that at this period of time the North Pole was not yet discovered by anyone was in-keeping with the unrealistic nature of the play; we were indeed forced to suspend reality! Before he could venture off he needed make enough money to fund his voyage, through this some adventures in themselves are created…he becomes friends with a one of a kind animal the ‘Pushmi-pullyu’ a peculiar looking beast with two heads! Following this there are many obstacles in his way, some of which being his prison sentence and an overpowering shipwreck! Despite this he finally finds what he seeks!
Though the doctor’s interaction with animals is the main theme there is another key element upon which the play centers; this being his developing relationship with the young lady Miss Fairfax their connection is one that certainly proves opposites do attract! The pair seem worlds apart yet are drawn together by their differences. The play ends on an exceedingly unrealistic note, the doctor travels to his home town dangled by a lunar moth to over rule the court after protesting the allowance of conversation between humans and animals!
Generally I found the performance of the cast to be rather poor and lacking in commitment. I feel that only two characters Tommy Stubbins played by the lady Joanna Forest and Chief Straight Arrow played by experienced film and music producer Ako Mitchell managed to hold their character perfectly throughout, they were both cast very well as the pair together were suited in their roles and performed to an immense standard. From my perspective Tommy Stubbins appeared as the most committed and talented actor on stage. Straight Arrow was a great exaggerated character, Tommy Steele told jokes that crushed the success of the play yet Straight Arrow was really funny and gave the performance some witty humor!
I found Tommy Steele; the gentleman playing the main role of Dr. Dolittle wasn’t at all professional unlike the characters mentioned above lacked commitment greatly. He along with his costar who was playing Miss Emma Fairfax moved the pace of the play too quickly; lines were rushed and although some nerves are expected on an opening night these shouldn’t show in a professional performance. When on the subject of Miss Fairfax there was a part at the start of the production where she was angry at Dr. Dolittle she said the line “He is nothing more than a quack” the actress Abigail Jaye who played Emma Fairfax attempted to show her frustration through hand gestures yet her actions and facial expressions were so unbelievable that she just appeared to be completely fake and unprofessional!
Bryan Smyth who played Matthew Mugg was another whom was guilty of dragging the performance down with his amateur skills and inefficiency when it came to withstanding character! Matthews’s role was as a close companion of the doctor yet in the stage sense he was to act as a narrator of the performance keeping the audience informed of key events in the storyline. His use of the stage and his facial expressions were indeed convincing yet it was his speech skills that destroyed the role.
When on the subject of assessing his vocals Bryan Smyth performed at a highly mediocre standard; he constantly would slip through accents; the accent he was meant to sustain was the Irish accent I would have thought that for him this would be easy as he was born In Dublin yet he just couldn’t keep in role. This for me was incredibly noticeable as I am sure it would be for other members of the audience. This flaw in the character proved to me that either he wasn’t fully concentrated or he wasn’t capable of performing in the role of Matthew Mugg his speech was immensely distracting and disconnected me from the points he was actually trying to get across to the audience.