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Ben Hur Live - O2 Arena

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

NEXT autumn, on September 15, 2009, a stage production of Ben Hur Live will receive its world premiere at London’s O2 Arena. There will be two further performances at the venue – on September 18 and September 19 – prior to a European tour.

The show is based on Lew Wallace’s novel Ben Hur – A Tale of the Christ, which was famously filmed in 1959, starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd and Jack Hawkins.

It’s primarily the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a Prince of Judea who, betrayed by his boyhood friend, the young Roman tribune Messala, is condemned to a life of slavery. Yet against all the odds, Judah regains his place in society and fuelled by hate seeks revenge.

But what makes Ben-Hur more than just an enthralling work of fiction, are the intricately woven threads of a far greater story – that of a young carpenter’s apprentice whose life ends so cruelly on a hill at Calvary.

The new production, the vision of German producer Franz Abraham, has been developed over 15 years and will include the famous chariot race, one of the most thrilling sequences ever filmed.

For the stage production, which marks the film’s 50th anniversary, five quadrigas will compete in a neck and neck race around the arena floor. The thoroughbred horses, together with a team of trainers and charioteers, will undergo 12 months of intensive training.

In total, 400 performers and 100 animals – as well as the horses, camels, donkeys, chickens, falcons and eagles – will be taking part. All that plus a combination of light, sound, water, wind and pyrotechnic effects.

As Abraham explained: “The show will have the speed of a musical, the depth of great theatre, the power of a rock concert and the visual opulence of a Hollywood blockbuster.”

Tickets go on sale on Friday, November 14, 2008.