Not sure what Ben Hur is all about? Think ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ mixed with ‘Spamalot’. The production, written by Patrick Barlow, is based on the best-selling novel, General Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ and the 1959 film adaptation starring Charlton Heston.
The direction was the problem for me. There was plenty of potential from an original story and brilliant actors, but I couldn’t help but feel they weren’t entirely committed to the direction of the piece. Techniques were layered and blurred over each other and it was easy to get lost in the mayhem. Perhaps they tried to do too much and it led to a messy and confusing output…
One element thrown in, perhaps without enough thought, was the whole ‘play within a play’ thing. Unlike ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ though, originality was not present in abundance and despite ensuing ‘failures’ throughout the production it felt a little irregular, haphazard and clumsy. I felt that they didn’t quite commit to this concept and I often forgot that was the case and it jarred with the flow of the evening.
The four actors, playing the eight parts, were strong, particularly Liam Horrigan as Daniel Veil. He shone as the eccentric director with his over the top mannerisms and flamboyance. The rest of the cast were equally as over the top but tiptoed carefully along the line between playing exuberant characters and overacting.
The production values were also a strength with very little but powerful scenery, amusing costumes and good storytelling particularly when it came to tricky moments including camels, chariots and boats.
I found the humour unoriginal and corny. From audience participation that left you feeling uncomfortable to groan-inducing lines. It lacked the fresh imaginative take that the Barn usually provides and I was left feeling a bit distant and unengaged.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the production, I was just left feeling a bit lost on what I was meant to have taken from it. Ben Hur was an adequate attempt at a strong idea, concept and story and makes for a mildly entertaining evening, but be prepared to leave feeling a bit underwhelmed.