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The story of Ben-Hur as adapted for the stadium show in Australia (October 22 & 23, 2010) by writer/director Robert Hossein, follows the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace.

Two thousand years ago, Tiberius, emperor and god of The Roman Empire extended his power over five million square kilometres. Obedience reigned under his control and the emperor had 360,000 men always ready to rush to the borders and protect the shores from rebellion.

In Ancient Rome there is a parade in front of the Emperor. The giant, crushing and victorious Roman Army penetrate the stadium in lines to pay homage to the Emperor of Tiberius.

In his magnificent palace in Judea, Ben-Hur is surrounded by his mother Myriam, his sister Tirzah and his attendant Simonides. Messala, the son of a Roman prefect who occupies Jerusalem, comes to visit Ben-Hur, his childhood friend. Messala confides in him his desire to further subjugate the Judean people to slavery. Ben-Hur cannot accept this and declares their friendship forever broken.

At the foot of Ben-Hur’s palace, the impressive procession of Gratus, the new Roman procurator, passes. So as to see better, Tirzah bends over and accidentally pushes off a roof tile. Ben-Hur tries to catch it but it falls on the procurator’s head. His escort immediately thinks it is an attack. Messala screams out, “Stop them from leaving!” Ben-Hur and his people are arrested.

Ben-Hur joins thousands of prisoners on the long walk to the Mediterranean port where the galley awaits. They march beneath unbearable sun and are whipped mercilessly if they slow from exhaustion. In ripped clothes, amongst the galley slaves sapped of their energy, Ben-Hur moves slowly and painfully through the desert. Near Nazareth, the soldiers give a break to this pathetic group, to take a small drink near a well. A centurion cries, “No! Not you! You are even guiltier than the others!” Ben-Hur falls to the ground. An adolescent named Jesus approaches him and gives the poor man some water.

In the Aegean Sea pirates ram the galley of Quintus Arius. The galley slaves have no energy left and Quintes orders they be chained to the oars for the attack. Only Ben-Hur remains dignified and vows that the willpower for vengeance keeps him going. On hearing this, Quintus orders he be liberated from his chains. When the pirates attack, Ben-Hur fights with the Romans and twice saves Quintus from death and leads the fleet to victory.

The gladiators return to Ancient Rome and, to celebrate the victory, the Emperor offers his people a phenomenal gladiator combat. Leading the victorious troops, the chariot of Quintus parades triumphantly around in a circle. By his side Ben-Hur, who Quintus has just adopted, is also cheered on. At the tribunal of Tiberius, the procurator presents the two men to the man he has chosen to lead Jerusalem – Pontius Pilate.

Quintus suggests Ben-Hur be trained in an arms drill and driving in a chariot race. Despite his now seemingly brilliant life, he longed to find his mother and sister and, although he fought constantly with the need to return to Judea he was held back by the growing affection the aging Quintus Arius bore upon him. When Quintus dies, Ben-Hur goes back to Judea. He wants to find his mother, his sister and seeks vengeance against Messala. Little by little, a strange and captivating light appears, accompanied by equally captivating music. Christ, preaching to his disciples, appears in this atmosphere of contemplation.

On his way to Jerusalem, Ben-Hur meets the Sheik Ilderim, who offers to defend his colours at the next chariot race. Ben-Hur refuses on the pretext of a mission he is on. He finds a crippled Simonide and learns Messala will take part in the race. The traitor threw his mother and sister in prison and confiscated all their belongings, and so Ben-Hur goes back to the Sheik to declare he will be his charioteer.

The Chariot race is set. Before the start, Ben-Hur offers to make a pact with Messala declaring he will renounce his vengeance if Messala liberates his people. His contemptuous refusal decides what happens next. The chariots commence racing and as they overtake or are overtaken there are wheels locking and chariots falling everywhere and as Messala is about to be overtaken he tries to unbalance his rival. His axle breaks and he falls to the ground.

In Jerusalem, Ben-Hur visits the valley of the lepers where he has found his sister and mother. Looking amongst the lepers, Ben-Hur screams his mother’s and sister’s name. They finally appear, and Ben-Hur helps them from the valley when they see a sinister cortege advancing towards them, escorted by Roman soldiers. Carrying his cross, Christ falls to the ground. Ben-Hur quickly helps him up and gives him a drink as Christ once did for him.

Published August 19, 2010.

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