THEATRE REVIEW: Ben Hur ★★★★

Ben Hur
The Barn Theatre, Cirencester
Wednesday 4th March - Saturday 18th April 2020

Running in at a whooping 224 minutes (3h 44m), Karl Tunberg and William Wyler’s 1959 Historic Epic is something of a cult classic, and those who will attend Patrick Barlow’s ruthless adaption at The Barn Theatre will come away somewhat satisfied, as this Monty Python-styled production is full of pompous characters, quick witted gags, and moments of audience participation which makes you feel like you are a part of the action on stage, or in the seas as the case may be….

Returning to The Barn after his successful stint with The 39 Steps (You can read our ★★★★★ review here), it’s clear that Joseph O’Malley was the perfect choice to take on this rather silly but epic narrative, which shares many similarities to his previous outing, with a small cast of four, as well as them being able to play thousands, quite literally, of characters. You may though be mistaken at times though that there are six actors on stage, through the rather clever and hilarious gag of blow up dolls, or the stage management team appearing appropriately rather awkward when technical mishaps and scene changes don’t always go according to plan; ultimately it keeps the performance fresh and these are just a few of the standout moments that makes Ben Hur so enduring, finding yourself smiling the whole way through from cheek to cheek.

With a cast of four taking on thousands of characters as a collective, it can sound like a daunting aspect, but luckily it seems that the casting department at The Barn Theatre have done quite a remarkable job in hiring four versatile and vibrant thespians, who as a company succeed in bringing Barlow’s adaption to live with sheer conviction. With Liam Horrigan taking on the role of Daniel Veil, it’s not surprise that he has been cast in this rather meta role as a director; he oozes comic timing like nobody else, and his snap contrast from actor to director is rather mesmerising. Bronte Tadman, who has returned to The Barn following the christmas outing of A Christmas Carol, leads a more prominent role than before and truly shows her worth and ability to command the stage amongst her other performers. As Crystal Singer, Tadman relishes the part and her on stage chemistry with Horrigan creates a certain tension in the latter parts of act two which keeps you focused and committed to their relationship.

With the chariot scene in the movie becoming quite a cult moment in the film industry, the right to do this justice in O’Malley’s adaption brings a challenge like no other, but as expected from their previous projects, The Barn rise to the anticipation in true style, and it’s here Devernie Lothian and James Dinsmore, who make up the final two actors in the collective, truly get their moments to shine, with Lothian giving a blinding performance as Omar Lord. Dismore throughout also gives a self-mannered and layered take as Edgar T Chesterfield which’ll have you howling, especially at the start of the second act where the story sees Zak Nemorin shine as a choreographer in a scene that is powerfully creative and could have you watching time and time again due to the four creatives on stage putting in an unstoppable force of nature.

Overall, The Barn have triumphed once again in bringing quite possibly one of their hardest productions to life and onto the stage; Ben Hur is simply the most quintessentially silliest thing you could take yourself to right now, to relieve the stress from the scary and harrowing real world we current find ourselves in, and bask in the delights of Barlow and O’Malley’s talented nature through a company of unique performers who give everything into making it a night to remember. 

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