NotMoses at the Arts Theatre
Billed as “a comedy of Biblical proportions”, Gary Sinyor’s NotMoses is built upon the conceit that a second infant was sent floating along the Nile beside the newborn Moses. The play focuses on the distinctly un-charmed life of its titular also-ran (Greg Barnett), living in parallel with the Hebrew prophet in an ancient Egypt populated by a cast of colourful characters sporting a range of regional accents (and one who has trouble pronouncing the letter “R”). So far, so undeniably similar to The Life of Brian. While the play’s promotional material makes no secret of the inspiration behind the narrative approach it adopts, it invites an immediate comparison, which does the production no favours.
Setting aside the question of originality, NotMoses suffers from a lack of clear and consistent comedic direction. For the most part, in contrast with the subversive satire and surrealism of its most obvious influence, Sinyor’s hunt for laughs is more gentle and ponderous, executed via a wry but totally faithful exploration of the Moses mythos and the Jewish cultural history within which it’s enshrined. What chuckles come seem often to be triggered as much by personal familiarity with the source material as by any actual joke (with gentiles in the audience liable to find themselves at something of a disadvantage as a result). Consequently, the mirth tends to bubble in scattered pockets, never building to the unifying roar triggered by a genuine zinger. Occasional lapses into more puerile territory (in which the word “sphinx” is inexplicably confused with “sphincter”, or the f-bomb is dropped with abandon) are severely at odds with the surrounding tone, and sabotage the work’s genuine potential as educational entertainment for younger audiences.
The likeable cast do well with what little they’re given (Joe Morrow’s Feripoti is a camp cartoon, but a charming one, blessed with the pick of the punchlines). Credit is also due to Lola Post Production for their innovative work on CGI projections that completely cover the reflective, papyrus-like surface of the backdrop and panels at the wings. The effect is to utterly transform the set according to the scene, vividly conjuring a partially-built pyramid or a parted Red Sea as required by the story.
Ultimately though, NotMoses flounders for want of sufficient funny moments to support its bloated 140-minute runtime (including interval), and conclusively fails in its quite clearly stated ambition toward Pythonesque genius.
NotMoses is on at the Arts Theatre from 10th March until 12th May 2016. Book your tickets here.
Watch a teaser trailer for NotMoses here: