Imagine: Ben-Hur comes to Bath

Almost exactly a year ago, an idea was formed in a tiny room in the Theatre Royal to bring a Hollywood epic of biblical proportions to the main stage. Ben-Hur was coming to Bath.

The cast and crew? A motley gang of amateurs brought together by a desire to live out their dreams in front of a packed house.

The whole thing didn't come to my attention for quite a while. I was nicely tucked up in my university bubble in Brighton when I got a call from my mum trying to convince me to get back on stage.

Having long forgotten my dream of becoming a professional actor in favour of a degree in sports journalism, I didn't think I would have the necessary skills to get a good enough part.

I came back to Bath after graduating and decided to audition hoping to escape the impending doom of having to find a job.

Never did I think that a month later I would have been cast as Judah Ben-Hur, a role made famous by Charlton Heston.

It's safe to say I felt just a little bit nervous at every rehearsal from then on.

From beginning to end this project was special.

It was the wish of Margot Boyd, the much loved actress who, for over two decades, played Marjorie Antrobus in The Archers, to show ordinary people the joy and excitement theatre could give to their lives. Margot left money in her will to finance an amateur production by the people of Bath.

You will be able to see for yourselves how much fun we all had.

Personally, I can't imagine a better way to spend a weekend than saving lives, racing chariots, being shipwrecked and witnessing the odd miracle or two.

I don't think my friends and family knew what to expect when they heard the news - no one, including the cast, could have imagined the outcome.

We hadn't even finished the chariot race on the day of the first performance.

The chariot race is what every Ben-Hur production after the film will be judged on and it certainly caused many people sleepless nights. Do you think we pulled it off?

You may see in the programme that every move of the big ensemble scenes were done to counts of eight.

I can assure you, after six months of military drills, that somewhere in a house in Bath there is still some member of the cast doing the vacuuming to beats of eight.

Ben-Hur was never meant to produce 120 people who all wanted to be the next Charlton Heston or Audrey Hepburn.

It was designed to inspire people to get involved and try something different. The result for some people was remarkable - it changed their lives showing them a confidence which they never knew existed.

Matt Hocken appears as Ben-Hur in Ben-Hur, on BBC One and BBC One HD at 10.45pm on Tuesday, 14 December.

Ben-Hur is part of the Imagine series. For future programme times, please visit the upcoming episodes page.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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