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Ben Hur

Published 25 November 2015

What’s it all about?

Remember The 39 Steps? Good. So you should, it only departed the capital in September.

This is the latest fast-paced comic adaptation by the Olivier Award-winning show’s writer Patrick Barlow, and as if the Hitchcock classic wasn’t epic enough, he now takes on General ‘Lew’ Wallace’s heroic tale, the one made famous in the 1959 historical drama film featuring tens of thousands of extras and more than 2,000 horses. 

Here, as in The 39 Steps, it is conveyed by a quartet of actors. Thousands of extras and horses with just four performers. No big deal.

With a running time of two hours (which includes an interval), naturally Barlow has had to make a few cuts, but this comic feat draws on iconic scenes from the film to bring everything from perilous sea battles to extraordinary chariot races to the Tricycle Theatre’s stage.

Who’s in it?

The aforementioned four actors come in the form of Alix Dunmore, Richard Durden, John Hopkins and Ben Jones, who play a set of performers putting on a stage production of the Roman epic.

Half of the quartet – Hopkins and Dunmore – have previous laugh-inducing, epic story-condensing experience having appeared in the West End production of The 39 Steps. As Daniel Vale, the actor playing the title role, the former is full of intense heroic looks and delivers his lines with a pretentious tone that makes certain scenes – namely his arrest – all the more hilariously shambolic.

Dunmore shines as everything from a damsel in distress to a humble slave, Jones brings heaps of comedy as Ben Hur’s friend-turned-nemesis Messala and Durden thrills in several parts, most notably as Judea’s falafel-demanding mother and the Roman warship commander who threatens to propel himself off a raft with a line comprising one of the show’s best innuendos.

What should I look out for?

The opportunity to star in the show. With only four actors and an oar-some sea battle to stage, it’s understandable that they require a little help. If you’re lucky you may even get a speaking part.

Ben & Max Ringham’s sound design and its (purposefully) badly timed execution.

In a nutshell?

Patrick Barlow strikes again with another feat of fast-paced comic ingenuity that is sure to delight audiences of all ages this Christmas.

Who was in the press night crowd?

At one point we’re pretty sure we saw Nigel Harman crying with laughter (but it was difficult to see through our own tear-blurred eyes).

We also spotted Ade Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders and Lolita Chakrabarti taking their seats. The latter was definitely a fan. Proof below.

What’s being said on Twitter?

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Will I like it?

A classic tale told through lawn mower-powered chariots, Dusty Springfield lyrics and Treasure Island references. What’s not to like?

Whether watching Ben-Hur every Easter is a household tradition, you’re thinking ‘Ben who?’ or – like us – you realise on seeing certain scenes from the show that actually you have at least dipped in and out of the film, this fun theatrical romp is definitely for you. When the Tricycle’s website says it’s suitable for ages everyone aged 10 to 100-years-old, they weren’t kidding!

Ben Hur is playing at the Tricycle Theatre until 9 January. You can book tickets through the venue’s website.

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