This scrappy, cheerily blasphemous farce aims to do for the Old Testament what ‘Monty Python’s The Life of Brian’ did for the Gospels. It takes a lot of chutzpah to follow so brazenly in the footsteps of Cleese, Palin and co, yet this feels like a third-rate rehash of that work of genius (it even ends with a song; a bad one). As a loosely-linked, overlong bunch of sketches in serious need of an edit, ‘NotMoses’ is passable; as a two-act religious satire, it’s barely coherent.
In the style of a big, brash pantomime, with garish digital backdrops, loud costumes and unreliable false beards, filmmaker-turned-playwright Gary Sinyor retells the story of Moses, imagining that another baby in the rushes, the Manchester-accented NotMoses, narrowly missed out on being God’s chosen one. Meanwhile, the real Moses won’t accept his Jewish heritage even though he declares ‘Gesundheit!’ whenever someone sneezes and says he’s free to marry any woman his mother chooses (ba-boom). Sinyor conflates familiar Biblical moments (the parting of the Red Sea; the plague of frogs) with childish flights of imagination, including Moses grilling a kebab in the Burning Bush or discussing the merits of shawarma with an Arabic nomad (‘Is lamb!’ ‘Is lamb!’ ‘Is lamb is awesome!’ Groan).
It’s worth remembering that Python’s irreverent take on the Bible wasn’t jokily irreligious for the sake of it; it was a framework for great gags aimed at modern times. Bar the limited fun of sending up the details of any or all religions, the humour in ‘NotMoses’ is haphazard and forced. The comedy is so base and random that when Sinyor strains to make some serious points about faith in the play’s closing moments, it just feels strange and awkward. The deeply conservative should approach ‘NotMoses’ with caution; anyone else will find its targets as soft as its jokes.