You have probably seen ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’ in one form or another, but it is a safe bet that you have never seen it performed like this before. The Messiah is an hilariously funny retelling of the birth of Christ performed by a cast of three, two inept actors and a rather exasperated opera singer. It has it all, slapstick comedy, a mangled script, wonky sets and a literal star that seems to have a mind of its own. It is, without doubt, the funniest thing you will see on stage this year and I absolutely loved it.
Hugh Dennis is Maurice ‘Bromsgrove’ Rose, the pompous head of a very small, traveling theatre company. Small, in that it only has one other member, Ronald Bream (John Marquez). Together with their guest star, opera singer Mrs Leonora Fflye (Lesley Garrett) they are staging their own version of The Messiah. It is gloriously, uproariously bad, so bad it is brilliant in fact, with one liners that come thick and fast, costumes that make you laugh out loud (all I will say is Herod’s nose!) and a birth of the Messiah scene that will live long in the memory. But, as the hapless thespian’s perform the most sacred of plays, their friendships start to fall apart. Will they even make it to the final scene?
The cast of The Messiah are just incredible. The always funny Hugh Dennis is almost the straight man as Maurice, with delusions of grandeur far above his tiny theatre company. The census scene, complete with the audience participation, is a particular high point of his performance as he loses it as his idea for audience participation descends into chaos, I also loved his Joseph ( you know where I’ve been, I’ve been making a sideboard) too. John Marquez as the hapless, slightly lunatic Ronald is side splitting, with his mangling of the script (just listen to him pronounce Bethlehem), funny facial expressions and asides raising laugh after laugh from an audience clearly enjoying every minute. I dare you to watch Ronald as one of the three kings trying to jump onto the revolving stage and keep your face straight. It’s impossible.
Lesley Garrett is an absolute revelation. Her beautiful voice of an angel is clearly fitting in this scenario, and even in the midst of all the mayhem her ‘Silent Night’ is stunning. But it is her comic timing and deadpan expression that really impresses. Her Mrs Leonora FFlyte is a brilliantly realised character, especially when she has to take on the role of the third king, leading to suitably hilarious results.
Side splitting brilliance, The Messiah will have you leaving the theatre with your sides hurting. A must see!
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Until 27th October
Click here for ticket information