Writer and Director: Patrick Barlow
Reviewer: James Garrington
Which is worse – Maurice Rose’s writing, or Ronald Bream’s acting? It’s hard to say – but when the two combine it leads to a version of the Christmas story that is a long way from the normal seasonal presentation.
Maurice Rose (Hugh Dennis) is the founder, scriptwriter and leading light of The Maurice Rose Players. Here he presents his epic version of The Messiah, and he has brought his entire acting company – actor Ronald Bream (John Marquez) and a guest artiste, operatic diva Leonora Fflyte (Margaret Preece, on for Lesley Garrett). Rose and Bream’s acting skills make this a nativity unlike any other you’re likely to see, while Leonora Fflyte is there to add a touch of class to proceedings.
It takes an awful lot of skill to create something like this – superb acting is needed to portray bad acting, and a brilliant scriptwriter to write such a bad script. The team behind The Messiah bring all of the skills that you could hope to find. Writer and director Patrick Barlow is well used to the idea of having a small group of actors playing multiple comedy roles – he is the brains behind The 39 Steps, one of the modern comedy classics. The difference here is that Rose and Bream, rather than slipping seamlessly into a new character, feel the need to stop the play to explain what’s happening to the audience.
Audiences have taken delight in watching actors play bad actors for many years now, and Dennis and Marquez are up there with the best. Dennis plays Rose as a well turned-out, pompous, self-opinionated and overly confident character, who clearly wants to be in charge – constantly correcting anyone else who fluffs any of his script, while being sublimely ignorant of his own lack of ability. Bream, as played by Marquez, is dishevelled, ill-at-ease and lacking in confidence until he finds his feet, at which point he becomes spontaneous and unpredictable. Margaret Preece’s Leonora Fflyte has little to say, with her primary role being to keep a straight face despite the mayhem going on around her, and add some operatic arias, all beautifully sung as you’d expect, though entirely incongruous in this Maurice Rose Players production. She also gets drawn into the fun when they find they need a third Wise Man, and throws herself in with gusto as the trio gallop their imaginary camels across the desert and tangle with a madly-spinning revolve.
It’s a send-up, obviously, and great fun – full of physical comedy and clever wordplay with malapropisms, double-entendres and mispronunciations worthy of Ronnie Barker in his prime. The script is laden with references and fond echoes of other comedies, with the whole feeling rather like a Morecambe and Wise play – Rose even talks about the play what he wrote. Ronald Bream’s Mary looks like a character out of Monty Python, while Maurice Rose plays a Roman Tribune in the style of John Cleese as they attempt to get the audience to help out with an entire Roman census.
Among all of this chaos, the play also manages to achieve something special. The script is so bad that it brings a level of humanity to the well-known characters, as Mary and Joseph bicker with each other, and share their fears. There’s also something oddly touching about watching two men portray childbirth despite – or maybe because of – the Call the Midwife additions, creating a wonderful combination of the spiritual and the mundane.
It’s a Christmas story unlike the norm, a very funny comedy which will maybe make you reflect, and well worth seeing.
Runs Until 27 October 2018 | Image: Robert Day