Friends, Romans, Countrymen! This winter season Ben Hur is well and truly here to stay!
Who ever thought so many roles could be taken on, adapted and made funny by a meagre four lead actors. The utterly charming John Hopkins leads audiences into the world of the play, making it known that he himself is the ‘one true star of the show’. Unlike the onscreen version of Ben Hur this production incorporates a great deal of comedy throughout and rarely has a dull moment in sight. The acting talent is top notch and the over theatricality of the whole thing is unquestionably attractive to watch.
The set is also a key factor in making the piece so dramatic and in some respects comical. For obvious reasons the scenes in which Hur is aboard a roman vessel (for instance) is very difficult to interpret on stage. However, the way in which water is thrown into characters faces and stuffed dummies are used as pirates, being tossed on to the stage before into the audience, leaves you feeling rather sea sick yourself.
Some moments of pantomime are also present, such as Hopkins asking the audience, due to budget cuts, if everyone could mime pulling forwards and back (resembling that of oars) before making us mouth seafaring dialogue. This joint effort between the cast and audience creating the ship is unusual, and yet at the same time hilariously balmy. Another stand out scene has to be that of the chariot race, in which Masala and Ben battle it out to the bitter end in order to be crowned champion and unleash their hatred upon each other. Using lawn moor sound effects to power the chariots, the two brothers battle it out until half the stage is practically destroyed before revealing the winner. The drama is so intense it is like an episode of EastEnders, with a sprinkling of Gladiator for good measure.
Also the cross dressing and amount of characters the cast has to jump between is astounding. Throughout certain scenes actors would start as one role and have to change wigs, headdresses and so on, several times in order to resemble the various persons being played. Providing a slight slap stick element for audience members to enjoy.
My only critique is that perhaps all the high energy and comedic material prominent in the production are most reserved for the beginning and end, and hence the middle suffers as a result. However, overall a fun filled performance, pleasant theatre venue and all around great night out for anyone who fancies a giggle, or ten. 3/5
Review written by Luke Redhead.
Ben Hur is currently showing at the Tricycle Theatre until Saturday 9th January. For more information on the production, visit here…