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BWW Review: THE MESSIAH, The Other Palace

The Messiah

The MessiahPatrick Barlow's The Messiah answers a question that I'm not sure was being asked - "Where can I see one of Ernie Wise's plays (what he wrote) extended to a full two hours?"

The show has so many elements of those farragos that it could almost be a tribute. Hugh Dennis's Maurice Rose has the pomposity and misplaced authority Ernie would bring to the stage, while John Marquez is all bumbling charm and Fool-ish chaos as the Eric-like Ronald Bream. We even get Lesley Garrett in the Glenda Jackson / André Previn role of Mrs Leonora Fflyte, trying to sail above the mayhem buoyed by her high culture talent, but being dragged down into the mire nevertheless.

Along the way, we hear the nativity story, complete with angels, three kings and two men giving birth to the eponymous hero. That's a smart move, because the narrative is so embedded in our psyches that no matter how far off-beam Ronald's sense of fun takes us or how tortured Maurice's direction becomes, we can always be brought back to the story by a star in the sky or a sheep at a manger.

Comedy is so subjective of course (and my patience with the humour resulting from people mispronouncing words or misusing pretentious language is stretched by its second instance - and there's about two dozen to endure) but this play is showing its age. There's none of the youthful vivacity and energy that drove The Play That Goes Wrong from its fringe roots to the West End and Broadway and the cheapo props may be part of the shtick but the piped music is horribly mushy for a venue that specialises in musical theatre.

The best elements of the show (tellingly) are not comic at all. La Garrett, of course, sings beautifully and gives as good as she gets as a wise man - which makes you wonder why she is left sitting, pouting disdainfully, for most of the show. And Maurice goes through a kind of breakdown as the show collapses all around him, only to be rescued by the love of Ronald, two of life's, well, not exactly losers, but not winners either, clinging to each other because they don't have anyone else. It's a touching moment, beautifully written and acted with great sensitivity.

Yet even that poignancy felt dated - the kind of middle class, blazer wearing, Middle Englander that Maurice represented when the play was written in the early 80s, is now more likely to be a tubthumping "Gammon" barking out opinions on Question Time or radio phone-ins these days. An - if you will - Farage at the Farrago.

The Messiah continues at The Other Palace until 5 January.

Photo Robert Day

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From This Author Gary Naylor