NotMoses - 16 March 2016 Review

A pants pantomime performance

On paper, NotMoses sounds like the perfect comedy; a wailing baby is cast back into the Nile by a Princess, in favour of a quieter kid. One becomes Prince Moses, whilst the other becomes NotMoses, a disgruntled slave at the receiving end of every joke. There’s potential there, partly because we’ve seen almost exactly the same thing in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. But for something that has self-proclaimed its hilarity across all of its advertising, NotMoses leaves you feeling exceedingly underwhelmed.

In his playwriting debut, filmmaker Gary Sinyor introduces us to a myriad of comedy stereotypes; from the impassioned feminist love interest to the less-than heroic protagonist, not forgetting the copiously camp character, who in this takes the form of the Slave Master. As well as this, he’s thrown in some well-known accents, with the poor slaves speaking in a Northern twang, whilst the royalty sound like they’ve swallowed a plum. None of this is particularly offensive, but it’s also not particularly original.

At times, NotMoses feels less like a light-hearted comedy and more like an endless tirade of jokes which frequently miss the mark. Of course it’s funny when nobody understands that NotMoses is actually called NotMoses, but it does become considerably less funny after the fifth time. Granted, there are some genuinely giggly moments, such as the calls to prayer and the cleverly placed expletives. Some gags are well-timed and you do chuckle, but you’re not rolling around in your seat. Instead, you’re wondering why the show dubs itself as outrageously irreverent, when really the only mildly controversial moment is the cringingly lengthy repetition of the Islam “is lamb is awesome” joke.

NotMoses is saved by Greg Barnett, who gives a convincing performance as the disbelieving non-redeemer and is the only character that you remain engaged with. Sinyor’s decision to heighten everyone apart from him was clearly a conscious choice, but only makes for an array of annoying characters. A well-known comedy rule, which is what made the Pythons so successful and which has clearly be ignored here, is that the straighter you play the comedy, the funnier it will be. If you ham it up and beg for laughs, the less the audience will invest in you. Unfortunately, many of the actors fall prey to this, which makes for a pants pantomime performance.

Carla Goodman’s set is also rather questionable, and looks as though it has been cobbled together on a budget of a tenner. Whilst low budget theatre can often be exceptional, this is not the case here, especially when dim blackouts ensure that you see the Stage Manager moving everything around in a makeshift costume. Hopefully, the ramshackle effect is intentional. A redeeming factor is the rather cool video design which is projected onto the wings, which allows for a more sparse set.

It’s very clear that this is Sinyor’s first outing into theatre. Direction is shoddy, with actors tripping up on lines and blocking each other onstage. If this was a show at a fringe theatre, you would probably forgive it (especially the cringeworthy launch into song at the end) and actually relax a bit more. There is potential to clean it up a bit, make some cuts to the dialogue and put it on a smaller stage – all of which would help. NotMoses would fit perfectly in fringe theatre but is out of place in London’s West End.

star-rating-2.0

Reviewed by Susannah Rose Martin.
16 March 2016, Arts Theatre