At the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn, audiences of the epic Ben Hur are promised ‘stunning combat’, a ‘103% bona fide chariot race’ and even ‘a decadent Roman orgy (suitable for all ages)’. The team behind the Tony and Olivier award-winning The 39 Steps have decided to tackle General Lew Wallace’s famous biblical blockbuster, doing so with a cast of only four actors. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Ben Hur at The Tricycle shows that to love something truly is to lampoon it mercilessly.
Not only a hilarious parody of the bombastic nature of the epic tradition, it’s also a tribute to the often gargantuan ambitions of Am-dram theatre. Daniel Vale (John Hopkins) is the aptly named veil for the epic saga; he has written, directed, and stars as Judah Ben-Hur in what he sees as his masterpiece. Along with three other aspiring actors, including his girlfriend Crystal Singer (Alix Dunmore), they set out to tell the monumental tale. As they do, the wires begin to show and the drama beneath the drama reveals itself, catapulting both Ben Hur and Daniel Vale through wreckage and onwards to redemption.
Quick, utterly witty, and rife with puns only to groan at, Patrick Barlow’s script allows us to laugh at and laugh with his characters. Convoluted and misguided prose (‘I know not then, I knew not know’ or ‘Doth a story doth begin’) leave audiences in stitches, and the cast are experts as amateurs with lightning-speed costume changes, and impeccable comedic timing.
Richard Durden plays a bumbly and endlessly amusing Quintus Arrius, and Dunmore and Hopkins anchor with earnestness and over-animation. The audience participation falls a little flat, and the ending fails to produce the laughs it promises, although Ben Jones does provide a rib-tickling holy cameo.
Ben Hur is more than just a comedy. It’s an homage to the epic tradition and to the theatre, and Barlow’s script reminds us that ‘there is no greater truth than this: The show must go on’.
|What||Ben Hur, Tricycle Theatre review|
|Where||Kiln Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London, NW6 7JR | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Kilburn (underground)|
19 Nov 15 – 09 Jan 16, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£12 - £28|
|Website||Click here to book via Tricycle Theatre|