Ben Hur: The blockbuster no one will understand

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

On-stage chariot races, herds of horses, camels, vultures, eagles, 400 performers and a supporting cast which includes Jesus Christ, Tiberius Julius Caesar and Pontius Pilate ... What else to do but set Ben-Hur the stage show in Latin and Aramaic? The £5m production will show at the 20,000-seat O2 arena in London from 15-19 September.

Only one song in the score – written by Stewart Copeland, formerly a rock drummer for the Police – will be composed in English.

Actors will learn their lines in the ancient language of the Romans and the Jews. A narrator will explain the action in the native language of whichever of the seven countries the play is touring, among them France and Germany, as well as England.

The creator, Franz Abraham, said he wanted to stick authentically to the novel by Lew Wallace, an instant bestseller when it was published in 1880 – instead of following the better-known film adaptations, among them the 1959 movie starring Charlton Heston, which won 11 Academy Awards. (Some grisly endings are different in the novel.)

"When I decided about the language everybody said 'Are you crazy? Is it possible?'," Mr Abraham said.

"I explained to them that there was short dialogue and that everything, for the understanding of children, is narrated. The narrator will appear whenever necessary.

"I originally wanted to do a passion play in Latin in Rome in 1999. Mel Gibson's film The Passion of The Christ uses Aramaic, and Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves uses dialogue in the original (Lakota) Indian language ... This is proof that it's possible."

The problem of how to disguise the German accents of the two lead actors could also be avoided if they spoke in the ancient languages, he said...

comments powered by Disqus