Page last updated at 10:34 GMT, Friday, 18 September 2009 11:34 UK

Ben Hur Live: press views


Ben Hur extravaganza opens at the 02

Ben Hur Live, the stage extravaganza featuring 32 horses, 100 doves, more than 70 dancers and a high-speed indoor chariot race, had its world premiere at London's O2 Arena on Thursday.

With reported costs of £5m, the production features music and narration by former Police star Stewart Copeland.

Theatre critics gave the show a mixed response, with many comparing the spectacle unfavourably to the multi Oscar-winning 1959 film, starring Charlton Heston in the title role.


Aside from the famous chariot-race and a sea-battle, this remains a surprisingly unstirring event, stronger on numbers than imagination.

In the end, the production by Philip William McKinley lacks flair. It is really a piece of high-flown kitsch destined to tour the world over the next few years.

It's message that virtue is better than vengeance in unexceptionable, but good intentions and vast resources are no substitute for vision and theatrical imagination.


Franz Abraham's vast, barmy production was not the fiasco I feared, even if its supposed highlight, the chariot race... is not as exciting as the publicity had promised.

What is surprising is that the plot is not lost in the ample acreage of the O2, even though the scanty dialogue veers between Latin and Aramaic.

This is not a show that will displace the film in the memory... but it is not silly, not naff, not a waste of your time and the O2's space. I rather enjoyed it.


Although this cod-biblical stadium show has spectacular moments, it's also massively camp, woefully ill-conceived, and laden with bathos.

What really startles here is the gulf between the clearly earnest intentions and the frankly laughable execution. A lot of time, money, expertise, energy and commitment — not to mention seven consultant historians — have been lavished on something frankly risible. The only person to emerge with any real credit is horse trainer Nicki Pfeifer, and he'd be justified in having a long face tomorrow.


Nothing you see here is one tenth as spectacular as William Wyler's epic Oscar-winning film, and even that was often a terrible, long-winded bore.

How one wishes Frankie Howard would come on and lighten up the proceedings with a few naughty jokes. The tone of saccharine religiosity about the show, as Ben Hur's life connects with Jesus Christ's, has more in common with a pious Sunday school sermon than a great showbiz extravaganza.

And though the show may be called Ben Hur Live, I'm afraid it left me bored to death.


Nothing can make up for the fact that this is one of the most misconceived outings ever to make it into the public arena. In two words: It stinks.

Truly great theatre involves the suspension of disbelief: Disbelief was certainly the order of the day here.

In the pursuit of spectacle, dramatic tension was utterly lost - but even the spectacle wasn't anything like it was made out to be.

To paraphrase probably the most famous review of the film: Loathed Ben - absolutely hated Hur.

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