REVIEW: NOT MOSES (Arts Theatre)

NotMoses is a new play written and directed by Gary Sinyor which markets itself as a play for people who loved the film ‘Life of Brian’. It goes without saying that this is a comedy, poking fun mainly at Judaism but also slipping in some jibes at Islam, Christianity and the ancient Egyptian gods.

The play follows the story of NotMoses (Greg Barnett), the boy named after Moses (Thomas Nelstrop) the Great Redeemer as a reminder of his inadequacies. Our antihero doesn’t really believe in God but has plenty of strong opinions about freedom and equality. Moses and NotMoses lead the people out of Egypt together and tackle the thorny issue of receiving their obscure instructions from God, who of course appears as a burning bush.

Tensions around the world are high at the moment, between people of all faiths and none. We all know that. NotMoses encourages us to laugh at ourselves and not take religion too seriously – mixing easy laughs about circumcision in with the more genuine points about how hypocritical and downright bizarre some Jewish teachings can seem. One of the strongest scenes shows God imparting the Ten Commandments and then having a sort of Q&A with Moses and NotMoses – why can’t we eat owls? What is the point of wasps??

There are some highly enjoyable comedic characters. Danielle Bird is glorious as Miriam, a bold and brassy woman who gets it on with NotMoses and is unrepentant about the number of men she’s had “come up inside of” her. Feripoti (Joe Morrow) is the camp task master who makes a great show of brandishing his whip at every opportunity, and really rather enjoys it when the whip is turned on him. The Pharaoh (Dana Haqjoo), Rameses (Niv Petel) and the Princess (Jasmine Hyde) enjoy good chemistry as the messed up royal family. Antonia Davies plays her role as Aviva, NotMoses’ gossipy mother and Miriam’s would-be mother in law, with wry skill.

The versatile staging uses projections on a large backdrop, with crude large-scale scenes such as the building of the pyramids which mock the recent slew of big-budget biblical CGI movies. There are slapstick elements to the action, along with some excellent gimmicks – a shower of plastic frogs rains down on the audience during the plague of the frogs.

NotMoses seems a little rough around the edges, but maybe that’s part of its charm. The set looks very flimsy and the actors tripped over some of their lines, but this will undoubtedly improve over the course of the run. The ending is quite surreal, with Miriam delivering a mini-sermon on the importance of equality in religion before the cast bursts into song. On the whole though, the humour is well aimed and delivered with much hilarity.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: Darren Bell

Not Moses plays at the Arts Theatre until 14 May 2016. Tickets to the London West End production