Patrick Barlow’s work has always managed to undercut the artifice of theatre while remaining immensely theatrical. That’s certainly true for this reworking of a show he created in 1983 for the two-man National Theatre of Brent.
Never lacking in ambition (this is, after all, the man who took on Wagner’s Ring Cycle with just two actors), Barlow turns to the Bible for The Messiah, retelling the Nativity in his own insane and pleasantly inane way.
Instead of taking on his long-performed role of Desmond Olivier Dingle, Barlow directs. The original show has been rewritten for Hugh Dennis and John Marquez. They make a good old fashioned double act, with Dennis as the straight man ‘actor’ Maurice Rose and Marquez as his comedy sidekick Ronald.
Dennis and Marquez play it like Barlow and his collaborator John Ramm used to, with Dennis playing the superior, whining Middle Englander with a blazer and a desire for order; Marquez his right hand man and “entire company”, a loveable, slightly simple man and a source of constant frustration to Maurice. Backstage arguments frequently spill front of cloth.
Lesley Garrett also makes an appearance as an opera singer, although she doesn’t have to do too much except pout and look slightly above it all.
Marquez overdoes it a bit, but he’s incredibly endearing, and occasionally he delivers a line in a brilliantly unexpected way. A little glimmer of poignancy in their relationship adds a lovely note, and gives Dennis a chance to demonstrate his acting skills. He’s actually quite moving.
Although the laughs don’t come nearly thick nor fast enough, when everything’s at full tilt, Barlow’s production contains some divine moments.