Review: The Messiah, The Other Palace,

John Marquez, Hugh Dennis and Lesley Garrett in The Messiah

John Marquez, Hugh Dennis and Lesley Garrett in The Messiah - Credit: Archant

Muswell Hill opera star Lesley Garrett shows great comic timing in this spoof about a witless duo of actors trying to stage the Nativity saga

Who says Christmas theatre is only for kids? Grown-ups wanting to swerve the annual round of pantos and singalongs could do worse than cut along to St James, where comedy star Hugh Dennis plays earnestly pompous Am-dram actor Maurice Rose, desperately trying to stage a hammy version of the Nativity saga.

Even before curtain up you could see there was as much comic talent in the audience as on stage, with Outnumbered writer Andy Hamilton and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop turning up to support their pal in his first stage role for over two decades.

The play itself dates back to the 80s, before Patrick Barlow scored a West End hit with his whirlwind adaptation of the 39 Steps. It centres around ineptitude, technical misphaps, fluffed lines, linguistic slips and slapstick humour, which offer unashamed laugh out loud fun.

Rose’s foil is the enthusiastic but hopeless Ronald Bream, played by John Marquez. This idiotic pair draft in posh opera diva Mrs Leonora Fflyte (Muswell Hill’s very own Lesley Garrett) to dignify their terrible show by performing sections from Handel’s great oratorio at key moments.

It may be her first comic stage role, but with a well-tuned sense of timing and of course a wonderful voice, Garrett holds her own with her co-stars - a shame then that she’s underused in the first half with just one chance to break into song. In act two she is better integrated her into the action as the trio gallop camel-wards through the Angel Gabriel, the Shepherds and dancing kings to a stable in Bethlehem and God him or herself.

There’s no escaping a bit of participation, audience members were given lines to shout out at relevant moments which whipped up the laughter as Rose descends into a Fawlty-esque breakdown, saved by the intervention of a co-star who’s finally had enough of being bossed around.

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With the sleightness of the material, at two hours it slightly outstays its welcome, but Marquez and Dennis make a terrifically witless comic duo, Garrett sings up a storm and throws in a couple of carols, there’s even a bit of a Christmas message about everyone being nicer to each other. Until January 5