The William Wyler 1959 blockbuster BEN HUR won 11 Oscars with a cast of thousands, including 10.000 extras, 365 speaking parts, 2,500 horses, a swelling score, the entire Roman Empire, chariot racing, sea battles, a galley of half-naked slaves, glistening torsos, Charlton Heston, did I mention the Roman Empir…oh yes I did. Tim Carroll’s production is a more modest version, not quite the biblical proportions of the original epic, but has kept some elements and a cast of….ur …four. But an excellent one at that.The energetic quartet playing hapless fictional thesps, staging the show are John Hopkins, Ben Jones, Richard Durden and Alix Dunmore who endlessly recycle themselves into various characters.
I remember seeing John in the ‘superlatively skewered’ Hitchcock spy spoof THE 39 STEPS a few years ago. The hit show, which was described as one of the best things to come out of the West End in the last decade, played London’s Criterion Theatre for nine years, winning multiple awards and is currently on a National Tour.
The very same playwright, Patrick Barlow is responsible for this pocket-sized, ‘redux maximus’ adaption, which began life in 2012 at The Watermill Theatre in Newbury, and has been subject to numerous rewrites since. The latest version is currently being staged at the Tricycle Theatre in North London.
“The thing with bad comedy is that it needs, paradoxically, to be really good indeed to be funny and this is very funny”, declared Jane Shilling in The Telegraph. She says ‘The jokes are signalled from so far off that when they arrive, you greet them like old friends.” Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard decreed it “a palpable hit.”
I drew this sketch of John, Richard and Alix from the promo poster. It’s probably not right that Ben is missing from a BEN HUR drawing, so I will have to do a separate one and return. I caught up with them after last Saturday’s matinee and got the sketch signed.
It runs until 9 January at the Tricycle, although John said that it may transfer to the West End.