REVIEW: The Messiah (The Other Palace) ★★

There is surely nothing more tempting for the average only-at-Christmas-theatre-goer, than watching familiar TV faces in a silly nativity extravaganza. Hugh Dennis (Mock the Week) and John Marquez (Doc Martin) lead us through the birth of Jesus in this unique multi-role piece, The Messiah. Oh, and Lesley Garrett is also there, for a spattering of awkward acapella songs and to keep an eye on the boys from a velvet-cushioned throne.

Patrick Marlow, adaptor of legendary The 39 Steps, conceived The Messiah back in 1983, with help from Jude Kelly (former artistic director of Southbank Centre). Since then the show has developed and changed considerably, not least with the characters being re-christened Maurice Rose (Dennis) and Ronald Bream (Marquez), two goons in an ambiguous amateur acting society. Despite its many productions spanning over theatre and radio, there is still something about the show which doesn’t quite work.

The set is impressive as is consistent with a production at The Other Palace. A circle of stone turrets frame the actors and, as we find out half way through act 2, also revolve, one of the many under-used features of the piece. An ornamental lit up stable, a highly detailed boulder and a shining star all get wheeled onto stage at different points in the story. The sophistication of the set feels incompatible with the stripped back ‘budget’ re-enactment the characters insinuate. One minute the actors are standing on a rusty flip chair, and clopping along on an imaginary donkey, the next they are revealing an intricate Bethlehem landscape and Garrett grandiosely descends onto stage dressed as an angel.

All three actors pluckily exert themselves throughout the 2 hour piece, clothes wet through with sweat in time for the bows. Despite Garrett’s minimal contribution, her outbursts of operatic hymns are enchanting, if a tad pointless. While Dennis plays Maurice with a sincere quality, leading to a rather capricious ‘break down’ in Act 2, the bulk of the comedic responsibility lies with Marquez. He plays Ronald with a sweet and unintelligent charm, if a little one dimensional against a sober Maurice. What we see is the archetypal ‘fool and his master’, recognisable, perhaps, but certainly a little tedious after a while.

The audience laughs are not ones to write home about, let alone tell your friends to rush and buy a ticket. Jokes land better with some than others but the comedy feels rather inane overall. If a light-hearted evening is what you’re after then by all means buy a ticket but it may be worth considering another Christmas show from the glittering London line up before you commit.

Reviewed by Nicole Darvill-Batten
Photo: Robert Day


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