Article published: Monday, July 13th 2015
Jokes come thick and fast in Chris Brown’s knockabout comedy The Messiah, a day in the life of an aggressive and egomaniacal knicker factory manager and the employees that suffer him. Brown stars as Mr. Kitson, the deluded ‘puppet-master’ whose bile and bravado thinly mask his internal fluster and frustration.
It’s the first day for new employee John Nickel (Chris Noone), who must suffer through Kitson’s one-liner laden tirades under the guidance of the matriarchal yet crass Shelia (former Tribeca singer Maria O’Haire), who’s primary advice is simply “to keep your head down”. Along with ditz Jennifer (Holly Ravenscroft), the employees must do their best to say and do as little as possible to draw attention to themselves whilst Kitson goes out of his way to insult and humiliate them. Rounding off the cast was Edd Bower as Gary, fiancé of Jennifer, who brought some nice human touches to his loveable but dim character.
The piece has a distinct throwback vibe, as a rapid succession of innuendos, dirty jokes and pop culture references are the driving force behind the action. The cast produced lively performances throughout, from Kitson’s intensity and ego to John’s simmering, camp frustration. The play relies more on recognisable character archetypes than nuanced personalities, allowing an almost non-stop barrage of jokes from the off. References to Jeremy Beadle, Rod Hull and Mr. Chips peg The Messiah at an older audience, and the energy and tone carry an old-school sitcom vibe. The biggest laughs on the night belonged to Shelia, whose (as per the programme) ‘crass tart’ persona led to some great bad taste quips. A little more narrative thrust may have helped The Messiah overall, as at times it was difficult to judge how far along the action had progressed or be where it was headed, but this can forgiven owing to the balls-to-the-wall nature of the comedy.
The set manages to create a busy working environment that never distracts from the performances or hindered the actors’ movements, as Kitson was able to march around the stage, whilst Jennifer had room to flounce and dance about. Great use was made of the space, as the audience were treated as fellow employees, allowing actors to burst from behind the crowd to surprise the crowd in a natural way. Likewise the props were simple yet effective, with tartan fabric and mint imperials being used to produce some of the largest laughs. Sound and light were used in a smart and effective manner, from a gentle, scene-setting machine whir to subtle spotlights that actors were able to seamlessly wander into to deliver key lines and monologues. Costumes reflected the characters personalities well, and Kitson’s awful wig, rolled shirt-sleeves and skewed tie being a particular highlight.
The programme carried a quote stating “Laugh? I nearly shat myself”, and this captures the feel of the play nicely: don’t come expecting an in-depth character study of the sociopath, prepare for a heap of bad-taste jokes and a high energy throughout.
The Messiah is next on at the Ruby Lounge on Friday 17th and Saturday 18th July at 8.00pm. Tickets are £9.50 in advance and £11.50 on the door, see the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival website for more information.
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