British comedy farces are more popular today than they ever have been. With revivals of classics like Spamalot, Noises Off and the very popular The Play That Goes Wrong (with its spin off show Peter Pan Goes Wrong about to enjoy a festive season in the West End) audiences aren’t stuck for some silly theatre to see. With The 39 Steps recently closing at the Criterion Theatre (after a successful 9 year run), writer Patrick Barlow has bounced back with a brand new show, Ben Hur.
Ben Hur is a parody of the Bible and a whirl wind look through the Roman Empire. Jesus makes regular appearances through out the show with comedy lines like ‘thank christ’. With shoddy set pieces, lengthy biblical comedy dialogue and even makeshift camels, the show doesn’t take itself seriously and you wonder whether the actors are really that bad, or really that good at acting! Turning a film that included 10,000 extras into a play with just four people must be no easy task but the cast take on a number of different roles, sometimes so quickly changed between that they forget who they are supposed to be.
John Hopkins leads the cast as Judah Ben Hur. Wearing nothing by a very tiny toga for the majority of the show, he shows off his assets whilst his comedy acting shows that he is more than just a pretty face. Ben Jones (as Messala) takes on his role with passion and gusto, giving a monty python edge to his character. Richard Durden (as Quintus Arrius/Sara) cracks the audience up as ‘mother’ whilst giving a Sheldon-esq performance (from Noises Off) as the slightly old and senile of the four. Alix Dunmore (as Tirzah/Esther) is the only female in the cast of four but holds her own with great vocal delivery and class.
Its fun, its silly and not a bad show. It takes a while to get going and act two is certainly stronger than act one. Be prepared for some audience participation which really makes you feel part of the silliness on board the slave ship! Whether Ben Hur will go on to do as well as The 39 Steps did remains to be seen, however if nothing else, it is a bit of fun for the christmas period.
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Photo: Mark Douet
Ben Hur is playing at the Tricycle Theatre until 9 January 2016. www.tricycle.co.uk