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REVIEW: Ben Hur by Patrick Barlow

19 Jul – 27 Jul 2019

I enjoyed the 2011 Stables Production of The 39 Steps, written by Patrick Barlow, and performed as a spoof of the film versions of the book.  I was, therefore, delighted to see another Barlow play, Ben Hur, one of the most Oscar decorated films ever, on the Stables’ programme.  It was going to be epic!  Back to the ancient past we zoomed, with an uncluttered open stage, four columns on an upper level, and diminishing columns at the side of the stage creating a false perspective in which the saga could unfold.

How could the Daniel Veil Theatre Collective stage such a vast tale with only four actors?  We were assured by their Artistic Director, Mr Daniel Veil (Peter Miller), that it was not a problem, especially as he would be starring in the play, which he had also directed.  Peter Miller achieved an excellent rapport with the audience as he shared Veil’s thoughts on the production, opened his heart, and leapt between numerous roles. Charlton Heston would have been extremely interested in Veil’s, fresh, interpretation of the masterpiece.

Enter Omar Lord, the versatile Rob Dyer, who moved with consummate ease through his many different roles at break-neck speed.  All were a joy to watch, especially the sadistic and pompously earnest Messala.   Ageing actor Edgar Tiberius Chesterfield (Rich Keeble) performed several other roles; marvellous eye and eyebrow work added magnificently to the comedy of his characters.  Crystal Singer, fresh from daytime quiz shows and advertising (Joanna Flay), entered a new world of dramatic theatre, once again performing many characters with swift changes of voice, costumes, wig and love interest.  It was impressively done.

The Collective’s production took the audience from ancient Rome, to the desert, Jerusalem, the sea and, of course, the Coliseum.  It all moved with pace and a lightness of touch that neither overplayed or missed any of the humour of the piece.  Laugh followed laugh and the ensemble acting appeared natural and effortless.   Actors took their roles as theatre collective performers with a seriousness that only enhanced the ridiculous silliness of it all still more. Credit too to the prop makers, most notably for the two zimmer-framed chariots, which raced around the Coliseum. The rowing slave mannequins were a wonderfully macabre treat as well!

The show was directed by Stables newcomer, David Sismore.  It was an ambitious choice, deftly handled.  Looking forward to his next one already.

Andrew White

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