By Kathleen Walker
It might seem a little early to mention the Nativity story, but it’s the start of November so what better time to return to the tradition of the birth of the Messiah? That’s what Patrick Barlow brings in his creation The Messiah, currently at the New Theatre before continuing on tour, eventually settling in the West End for the festive season.
At some stage in our lives, we have all either had to sit through an amateur production or been in one, so being introduced to the Maurice Rose Players is a familiar situation in theatre tradition. However the difference here is that only two characters make up the Players, with one special musical guest occasionally pulled into proceedings, taking on the somewhat ambitious self-penned ‘The Messiah’. In reality we’re in the safe hands of comedy-pro actor Hugh Dennis as Maurice and comedic character actor John Marquez as Ronald, accompanied by the supreme Lesley Garrett as singer Mrs Fflyte.
Maurice and side-kick Ronald walk the audience through their two-man show, guiding them in direct addresses when they have to switch parts (as it’s tricky for Ronald to pay both the Virgin Mary and the Angel Gabriel in key scenes in the story!) From the outset, you get the feeling that Maurice sees himself as the leading light of the play, and Ronald is there to make up the numbers as a one man version would possibly be even trickier. However, Ronald puts his heart and soul into the role, often adlibbing to enhance a scene – much to Maurice’s puzzlement. We also get to meet Mrs Leonora Fflyte who brings the musical interludes, adding atmosphere to key scenes with her favourite arias. Naturally, comedy ensues as the play does not quite go to plan and Maurice and Ronald have to battle technical issues alongside underlying resentment bubbling along.
With the success of other amateur production scenarios in the West End, The Messiah carries an audience expectation, which it easily exceeds. Written and directed by experienced actor Barlow, we are presented with characters who are perfectly feasible in such a situation. Marquez’s nuanced physical comedy effortlessly suits the piece accompanied by Dennis’ unflappable ease with constantly addressing the audience. The duo perfectly complement one another, even when interacting with the audience, which followed with ease rather than stifling silence. The ingenious interweaving of mispronunciations, double entendre and modern day references flows naturally and brings constant amusement for the audience. In some scenes you’d be forgiven for missing some of the clever speech as it’s delivered thick and fast. Then there are the talented musical interludes, which Garrett beautifully performs acapella, even with chaos often unfolding around her – she’s utterly unflappable.
You cannot help but be drawn into the scenario and fall for the charm of the characters, their dubious acting talent is seamlessly brought to life by real life pros in their field. The Messiah is a genuinely funny production that will give you a workout from laughing throughout.