The Messiah, written by Patrick Barlow, with additional material by John Ramm, Julian Hough and Jude Kelly harks back to the English comic genius of the Monty Python or the Goons. It was originally written for Barlow’s alter ego Desmond Olivier Dingle, who along with his sidekick Raymond Box (originally Jim Broadbent) produced two man recreations of famous stories for the National Theatre of Brent.
Directed by Tom Gutteridge, The Messiah is a retelling of the Nativity story according to Desmond (Max Gillies) and his hapless helper Raymond Box (David Lee Smith). Rosemary Barr as the opera singer Mrs Flowers completes the trio.
This is light, clean (mostly) humour. The slapstick comedy works better in real life than on TV as you have the added benefit of audience reaction (and participation). “What do you think we are, a statistic?” This is the line that provided some of the funniest audience participation moments I’ve ever experienced. We were invited to participate by murmuring at Rome, hah-ing at Caesar, and shouting at the census. It turned into a mayhem filled shouting match that dissolved into peals of laughter and a huge round of applause before interval. And if audience participation scares you – don’t be. This is all inclusive and no one gets picked on! All the classic slapstick and farce elements are there. Raymond has a problem saying big words and breaking the scenery, whilst Desmond is constantly correcting and breaking out of character to talk to the audience and Raymond.
The set (designed by Bryan Woltjen) is mismatch of pieces that look exactly like Desmond made them. ie, fake and apt to break. Max Gillies suited Desmond perfectly. A character so sure in himself and his abilities with the English pomp on top, Gillies has perfect comic timing. He sparked with life and it was obvious he was enjoying himself. His facial expressions alone are a joy to watch! His side kick Raymond, played by David Lee Smyth bore the brunt of the jokes. Smyth is better known at the moment as the face of iinet broadband, and the sweet guileless looks you see on TV are turned up to full wattage here. The two worked exceptionally well together.
The character of Mrs Flowers (Rosemary Barr) seemed to be an afterthought, as there was little interaction between her and the men. Her singing was good enough to be plausible, but not fantastic, although it was unclear as to whether that was intentional or not. However it’s hard to be critical about this production. I couldn’t tell if they missed lines or just made them up. If a lighting cue was slow, I wasn’t sure if that was a mistake or was meant to be like that. Slow changes for the actors I assume were character driven.
It is a brilliant piece to introduce teenagers to the theatre – as the participation and comedy means they are not stuck in silence for two hours. The show ends on a high, with a feel good factor of 100+. The students in the theatre thought it was hilarious, with a standing ovation, and whilst I didn’t join them, I did leave with a broad smile and a few residual laughs.
Black Swan Theatre Company presents
By Patrick Barlow
30 June – 22 July 2007
2 hours 10 minutes [including 20 minute interval]
$20 - $45
BOCS Ticketing 9484 1133 or www.bocsticketing.com.au
WA Regional Tour 25 July – 9 August 2007