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REVIEW: Ben Hur, Westacre Theatre

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And now, as they say, for something completely different ... as we settled into our seats at the opening night of the latest production from the award-winning Westacre Theatre company we little realised what we were about to witness.

Imagine, if you will, a mix of Monty Python, Carry on films, traditional pantomime and Kenny Everett and you have a little idea of the action on stage in this clever interpretation of Patrick Barlow's play, Ben Hur.

And what an hilarious belly-laugh of an evening on Thursday, it proved to be as a cast of just four retold the epic bibical tale of Ben Hur, with each player portraying various different roles in this all-action, fast paced production sharply directed by David Connor.

Ben Hur at Westacre Theatre (15119973)
Ben Hur at Westacre Theatre (15119973)

A revolving stage and film back-drops combined in numerous scene and costume changes in this play-within-a-play that sends up the original version that starred Charlton Heston in the title role.

The four actors, in their skimpy togas, are run ragged as they attempt to create images of epic sea battles, sword fights and the much-anticipated chariot race (a very well designed piece of stagecraft).

There is all of this, but much more, including Caleb Payne's gyrating stripper in tight gold Lurex.

It was all so not in the best possible taste ... as the late great comic Frankie Howerd would have said in the TV sit com Up Pompeii, "Titter Ye Not".

The action on stage, taking us back to Jerusalem and Rome of the first century AD, left the audience breathless as the minimal cast worked overtime with the dialogue with its liberal sprinkling of awful puns and double entendres not to mention the heavy sprinkling of innuendo. How they managed to refrain from collapsing into giggles while reciting such a daft script beats me.

It's all going wrong back-stage for the amateur drama group presenting this drama and the cast of Ross Chandler, Caleb Payne, Elizabeth Sims and Ieuan Jones almost keep it all together and, of course their acting skills lie in being so good at hamming it up.

While it may not be the greatest story ever told, this rollicking romp of a show was certainly one of the funniest ever likely to be seen in Norfolk. Pure comedy heaven.

There are more perfomances during August on Friday 16th, Saturday 17th, Thursday 22nd, Friday 21st and Saturday 24th. Catch it if you can. Call the box office on 01760 755 800

Richard Parr

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