Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

A Mad Messiah

The Messiah

Simon Friend and Associates (A Birmingham Repertory Production) , New Theatre Cardiff , October-29-18
The Messiah by Simon Friend and Associates (A Birmingham Repertory Production) I had to abandon any sensibilities due to my strict Roman Catholic Education (many years ago), stick my tongue in my cheek and have fun at this hilarious, irreverent reassessment of the story of the coming of the Messiah. It is written and directed by multi award-winning Patrick Barlow, always a man for good fun. Here he is holidaying from his ‘proper’ job as Artistic Director of the two-man National Theatre of Brent, where he found enormous success with his adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s Thirty Nine Steps.

Tonight we have another two-man, amateur, theatre company and as the two men, Hugh Dennis (returning to the stage after a twenty year absence) and his delightful side-kick John Marquez (Doc Martin’s PC Penhale) walk on to the stage they are both given a very warm welcome by this packed audience. This starts a relationship that becomes more intimate as the evening progresses.

It’s quick fire repartee right from the off and these two chaps bounce their lines off one another with a sharp wit that keeps us laughing continuously. There’s another equally delightful and strong contribution from Lesley Garrett. She joins in the fun and sings magnificently.

We are to be given a retelling of the Christmas story as we have never seen it before by Dennis’ Maurice Rose amateur theatre company. It’s a two-man company and we get a fascinating and wonderful performance from Ronald Bream, Marquez as he is continually bullied by his director. Their story is frequently commented on in song by Mrs Leonora Fflyte, Garrett.

The characters are set in the opening exchanges. Rose, a bossy self-made man and Bream undoubtedly the underdog. Though this relationship does slip a bit when Bream takes on the role of Mary, just a scarf over his head and Rose plays the Carpenter. The audience caught on quickly to the Led Zeppelin reference. If I were a carpenter (Mary was a lady). Even more fun was the ‘Call The Midwife’ moment with Bream entering on a bicycle, suitably cloaked and hatted, having to administer to himself, as Mary endures ‘main attractions’ as she is about to give birth.

The birth turns out to be successful and a relief after their long travels by donkey through the land. The land means walking around the broken circle of grey stone pillars that is our multi-purpose set from Francis O’Connor. It is well lit by Howard Hudson lighting. His main provision is a small circle of light in the centre of the stage which at one time serves as the Messiah and another as the fire. Rose has to put his face on the floor quite close to it to bring the fire back to life.

Now we need three wise men! Garrett quickly dons a rough beard and joins in the fun. She has a rerun when the Three Wisemen appear, as they follow the star. However the star doesn’t seem too sure of the way to go. After so much fun and laughter we had a quiet moment with Lesley Garrett, having whipped off her beard, just in time to give us a beautiful and perfectly sung ‘Silent Night’.

She quickly reappears at the back of the stage, high up, in full angel garb as she brings this wonderful, hilarious evening of masterly performances to a close by leading a full orchestra and choir (don’t know were they hid them!) in a rousing version of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

There was so much audience participation earlier that we were nearly all up on our feet and joining in.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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