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39 Steps creator brings Ben Hur to the Watermill

Seven years after adapting The 39 Steps – which has been running at the Criterion since its West End transfer in 2006 – playwright and director Patrick Barlow is bringing another classic book and film to the stage. Ben Hur, the epic story of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur, will be co-directed by Sean Foley and will run at the Watermill Theatre from 22 June to 28 July.

While the most recent stage adaptation of the 1880 novel, the 2009 Ben Hur Live at the O2, had a cast of 400 performers and 100 animals including horses and eagles, the Watermill version will be on a rather more modest scale. The show will include, however, according to a statement from the company, “a sea battle (with real water); the recreation of Ancient Rome (no expense spared); an unexpurgated and authentic Roman orgy (suitable for all ages)” and “a sensational live chariot race (with real chariots)”. Like The 39 Steps, Ben Hur is a four-hander. The company will play 12,059 characters between them.

The four cast members are Elizabeth Cadwallader, seen most recently in the role of Bianca in the RSC’s The Taming of the Shrew; veteran stage and television actor Bob Goody; Nick Haverson, who played Mr Punch in Improbable Theatre’s The Devil and Mr Punch at the Barbican in February; and John Hopkins, who appeared as Hannay in The 39 Steps in 2009.

The show is a co-production by the Watermill and Fiery Angel, the team behind The 39 Steps, who will presumably be hoping for a repeat of that success. The 39 Steps premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse before transfering to the Tricycle the following year.


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