Patrick Barlow’s The Messiah relies too much on repetitive and unsophisticated humour to be a hit.
The exaggerated mime, malapropisms and ‘talking-like-a-ten-year-old’, that make up the bulk of The Messiah, are safe comic bets for a brief time – but begin to fall flat even before the interval.
Writer and director Patrick Barlow has never committed to a singular vision of The Messiah, instead adapting it to suit casting each time. In this iteration, potential (in the form of Hugh Dennis and John Marquez) ultimately goes unrealised, and tailoring the narrative to work to Lesley Garrett’s opera-singing strengths made her close to redundant in the play.
Despite attempts to make something funny out of her musical interludes, in reality they tend to break up the limited comedic flow that already exists. Without wanting to diminish Garret’s accomplishments as a soprano, it’s hard to guess if her character – Mrs Leonora Fflyte – would have been just as peripheral or something else entirely had it been cast differently.
Essentially, the story is only told by two of the three characters: Maurice Rose (Dennis) and the only member of “Maurice Rose’s Players”, Ronald Bream (Marquez), act all the roles of the nativity. Similarly to Garret, Dennis and Marquez have no problems with delivery – they just don’t have adequate material to work with in the first place.
There were at least some highlights to The Messiah to speak of – namely the participatory sections, which were well choreographed and received. The birth sketch, which sees Ronald playing a sarcastic midwife bouncing off a floundering Joseph, was also on-the-money. The problem is these moments are fleeting, few and far between – and the rest of the show, which depends heavily on slapstick and buffoonery, is excessive padding to the actual comedy.