REVIEW: The Messiah, Chichester Festival Theatre, until November 17.
Despite a vastly better second half, nothing can quite hide the fact that The Messiah is an odd and rather disappointing evening, certainly not – as the theatre promises – “the funniest and most magical Nativity you will ever see.”
Maybe the problem was the venue. It’s a show which has got too much the whiff of a student revue about it to work on such a scale. Maybe it would have been better in the kind of village hall in which the piece is presumably set.
The festival theatre was full on Monday night, but The Messiah still managed to feel far too thin for it. Occasionally it was very funny indeed, but occasionally didn’t feel remotely enough – despite the best efforts of a talented cast.
The premise is that Maurice Rose (Hugh Dennis) and Ronald Bream (John Marquez) are two amateur thesps attempting to re-enact the entire Nativity between them – with a little vocal help from the distinguished diva Mrs Leonora Fflyte (Lesley Garrett).
The opening 20 minutes or so are fairly leaden until we get beyond the preamble and into the Nativity story proper, in which Marquez is excellent as a petulant 14-year-old virgin ie Mary.
Dennis, both as Maurice and as Joseph, does his best to hold it all together – but rarely does any of it live up to the expectations.
Garrett, making her CFT debut and in her first stage role, offers some delicious expressions of disapproval at the antics going on around her, but is barely used in the first half and certainly deserves more in the second.
In between, there are moments, indeed whole passages, which just don’t spring to life – and the final flourish you’d hope for just doesn’t come.
Which leaves you wondering whether the main house just isn’t the right place for it, however much the audience flocked…