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BWW Review: NOTMOSES, Arts Theatre, March 15 2016

Comedy is the most subjective of theatre's genres, which is why it's so hard to do and why it's so rarely done outside panto. So to stage a new comedy in the West End is ambitious, to include no songs at all leaving all the heavy lifting to the gags and then to stretch it to over two hours... well, some might say that it's easier to part the Red Sea.

NotMoses (at The Arts Theatre until 14 May) takes the Pythons' "Life of Brian" conceit of telling a biblical story through the person of a hitherto unknown interloper and applies it to the Old Testament - a "Life of Moses" if you will. So we are soon introduced to NotMoses, the baby who also floated down the Nile to escape the slaughter of the firstborns, but who was put back in the river after he cried too much and Moses taken to the palace instead. NotMoses grew up a slave in a desert hut, a fiery radical orator and Moses grew up in the Egyptian court with unexplainable Jewish mannerisms. They meet and work together as the plot follows the one in Exodus with Moses doing rather less than he was credited with in that version.

There is much to admire in this production: the back projections are beautifully realised by Lola Post Production and Carla Goodman's costumes look pleasingly authentic without toppling into knowing camp. The ensemble cast are worked hard too, with Joe Morrow's slave driver with a penchant for S&M, Feripoti, and Jasmine Hyde's cynical Princess getting the most laughs. And (subjective humour klaxon!) I never fail to be amused by badly applied false beards, so I enjoyed those very much!

The problem - and it's a big one - is the script, which just isn't funny enough to keep the whole thing afloat. Writer Gary Sinyor has a background in films with this his first script for the stage: that he also takes the directing credit raised my eyebrow reading the programme and those fears were realised (as they so often are). A director would surely have cut this show back to a pacey 80 minutes all-through and demanded more gags in some of the scenes left in - because if we're not laughing, we're looking at a very familiar story with characters who are not intrinsically funny and that's not much for your money.

One is left with an answer to the question why, in 37 years since its release during which it regularly tops polls as the funniest film ever made, nobody has tried to do "a Brian". It's just too difficult a trick to pull off a second time. NotMoses needed a miracle to succeed - and God did not oblige.

Photo Darren Bell

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