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The Messiah, Birmingham REP - review with pictures

By Diane Davies | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

This is the ‘greatest story ever told’ – told like never before.

Hugh Dennis as Maurice Rose & John Marquez as Ronald Bream. Photo by: Robert Day

Two slightly challenged actors and an opera singer team up to act out the Nativity story, what could possibly go wrong?

When the actors are played by improvisation heavyweight Hugh Dennis and Doc Martin stooge John Marquez alias Pc Joe Penhale, while the opera singer is none other than Lesley Garrett you know it is going to be something special – and very funny.

In the role of Maurice Rose, it is a second coming for Dennis as he returns to the stage for the first time in over 20 years. While for Garrett, in the role of Mrs Leonora Fflyte, it is her first play performance.

Billed as a comedy of ‘Biblical proportions’, The Messiah is written and directed by Patrick Barlow, the man behind the Olivier award-winning West End hit 39 Steps.

It follows the Christmas production by The Maurice Rose Players, consisting of Maurice Rose, his friend Ronald Bream (Marquez) and the diva singer Mrs F (Garrett).

John Marquez as Ronald Bream, Hugh Dennis as Maurice Rose, Lesley Garrett as Leonora Fflyte. Photo by: Robert Day

The leadership of pompous prattler Rose becomes increasingly unstable throughout the production as his fragility comes to the fore – particularly when his hapless pal Ronald and the snooty Mrs F team up in a mutiny.

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What starts out on an intellectual plane intending to be a journey of spiritual discovery and enlightenment quickly descends into hilarious farce. A little bit of audience participation adds to the comedy and the anarchic atmosphere as poor Rose loses control.

But while the farce and slapstick humour smacks the audience in the face demanding a laugh there is a second layer of comedy to the production. Every mispronunciation, double entendre or modern day allusion is a gem.

Lesley Garrett as Mrs Leonora Fflyte with Hugh Dennis and John Marquez. Photo by: Robert Day

Some slip by subtly – I nearly missed the Led Zeppelin reference with If I were a Carpenter (and Mary was a lady) although the Call a Midwife moment was undeniable. Whereas sometimes the word play comes so thick and fast it is hard to take it all in. I laughed out loud when Mary was having her ‘main attractions’ during the birth!

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It is the sort of play you could watch again and again and still find new humour in it.

Dennis is wonderful as uppity, straight man Rose and has an excellent partnership with his clownish chum Marquez. They bounce off each other well.

Hugh Dennis as Maurice Rose, Lesley Garrett_ as Leonora Fflyte, John Marquez as Ronald Bream. Photo by: Robert Day

Garrett doesn’t have much dialogue, her contribution largely requires putting her powerful voice to work and managing to maintain a straight face while chaos erupts around her.

However her facial expressions portray more than any words – she has a steely gaze that could strike a grown man down. And despite playing along two experienced comedy actors, she more than holds her own in some of the farce scenes such as when the Three Wise Men race their camels across the desert to Bethlehem.

Her vocal performances are, of course, incredible though fans should be aware that she will not be performing tonight or tomorrow due to prior engagements.

Lesley Garrett as Mrs Leonora Fflyte. Photos by: Robert Day

A wonderful, comic twist to the Nativity story performed by three outstanding talents – it looks like Christmas really has come early for Birmingham.

Runs at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday

Diane Davies

By Diane Davies
@@didavies_star

MNA Group head of weekly titles, and former deputy editor of the Express & Star. Specialist interest in music and theatre scene with regular reviews from our wealth of top venues.

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