A couple of years ago I was invited to the Gaiety Theatre, Douglas to see the Douglas Choral Society’s production of Les Misérables, which is not my favourite piece of musical drama. After three hours of Gallic posturing and carrying on (which theatre-folk refer to as The Glums, in tribute to the 1950s radio-programme Take It From Here), I commented to my host, my Isle of Man friend John, that though it wasn’t my favourite show I imagined we’d seen the best theatrical production on the Gaiety stage for at least ten years.
The Gaiety is a delightful theatre, one of Frank Matcham’s best survivors. Dating from 1900, the heyday of the Manx tourist boom, it has superb fibrous plasterwork by De Jong & Co, extravagant house-tabs dripping with ropes and tassels, and the only surviving example of a Corsican trap – an essential requirement for Dionysius Lardner Boucicault’s melodrama, The Corsican Brothers (1852), which doesn’t often get an airing.
This gorgeous jewel of Victorian entertainment struggled for years to earn its keep as a cinema, and was rescued by the Isle of Man Government in 1971. It could have been pulled down, but was restored in 1976. It’s by far the most attractive cultural venue on the island, and it serves local communities and holiday visitors in conjunction with the adjacent Villa Marina.
Early this year John’s then-teenage son, Matthew, texted me to ask if he needed to see Miss Saigon. Yes, I said, most definitely. Indeed, I said, I’d get on a boat to see it if it was performed by the Douglas Choral Society.
Miss Saigon (1989) is the follow-up work to Les Misérables (1980), and was Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s second successful assault on the West End and Broadway. It’s based on Giacomo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. It’s a Kleenex job. Complete with helicopter.
So I enjoyed a captivating evening in Frank Matcham’s stalls, watching the best of Manx theatrical talent pull out all the stops. Rebecca Lawrence (Kim), Jonathan Sleight (Chris), David Artus (Engineer), Alex Toohey (John) and Kristene Sutcliffe (Ellen) gave performances which were utterly indistinguishable from the professional theatre, and they were backed up by scores of on-stage, back-stage and front-of-house workers.
What more could anyone ask of a Saturday night? – Matthew’s twentieth-birthday dinner at the excellent Coast Bar & Brasserie of the Claremont Hotel [http://www.sleepwellhotels.com/hotels/isle_of_man/claremont/restaurant.htm], the best show in town in a Frank Matcham theatre, and walking home along the gently curving Loch Promenade looking out to Douglas Bay.
This is what Dr Johnson meant by “the harmless stock of human pleasure”.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.