On the banks of the Nile, the princess of Egypt lifts a Jewish baby from the Nile waters, but changes her mind, chucks him back and chooses a prettier one. The reject survives, is named Notmoses and winds up among the toiling Jewish captives, under a camp, leatherclad slavedriver who enjoys skipping with his whip as they build the Pyramids (“Its a pyramid scheme, we sell them before they’re finished”). The chosen Moses struts around as a Prince of Egypt until God tells him to lead the people to freedom after inflicting seven plagues on the captors, including a rather pleasing shower of frogs. It is, however, Notmoses and his girl Miriam who prove more effective, and who challenge the psychopathic spite and caprice of the Old Testament God, who booms and thunders from the skies and flickers in the Burning Bush.
Gary Sinyor, writer-director, acknowledges his debt to Monty Python’s Life of Brian, and it must be said that this play has its heart in the right place, questioning and mocking the more fossilized aspects of religious observance. There are some reasonable gags about dietary and clothing laws and the affinity of Jews and Arabs in the ancient desert. Fine. It is, as Sinyor writes in the programme, hard to imagine a world where Jews don’t laugh at themselves. “the Jews can take a joke only because we have confidence. Where is Jewish humour strongest? In the USA, where the community is more secure in itself than anywhere in the world”.
Fine. It could have worked. But it doesn’t, not at full length. A fast-moving, unbroken 85 minutes, culling the worst jokes and polishing the best, could have given it a Reduced-Shakespeare kind of charm, and still made its final point – about rigidity, about conflict, about women. It is an agreeable idea that Miriam has to lead the exodus in a false beard because Moses has Passover matzo constipation. Greg Barnett and Thomas Nelstrop are watchable as the Moseses, Antonia Davies assured as the Pharaoh’s sister-wife; Joe Morrow as the camp slavedriver is fun in a Carry-Onway. But it’s slow, too often juvenile, more like a university freshers’ revue than a professional show. Disappointment creaks through a friendly audience.
But – Sinyor being a successful film-maker – I must admit that the projections are very fine – Egyptian scenes, distant labouring slaves, the Nile, the Red Sea. Trouble was taken. More of that trouble should have involved cutting, sharpening and comic timing.
box office 0207 836 8463 to 14 May