COINCIDING with the 50th anniversary of the film, the epic Ben Hur Live will begin its London leg of a European tour tonight at The O2 Arena.

The production, the vision of German producer Franz Abraham, has been developed over fifteen years and promises to dazzle its audience with spectacular light, sound and pyrotechnics in a show performed in the round, like an ancient arena.

The highlight of the show will be the famous chariot scene where five sets of thoroughbred horses will compete in a neck and neck race around the arena floor.

News Shopper: VIDEO: Ben Hur Live preview

Based on Lew Wallace’s bestselling book and not the Oscar-winning film adaptation with Charlton Heston, the show tells the story of Jewish prince Ben Hur, who is wrongly condemned to work on a galley.

German actor Sebastian Thrun plays the eponymous Hur and has spent the last nine weeks in intensive rehearsals for the role.

He said: “We are not doing a remake of the film and I’m not copying Charlton Heston. I’m doing my own thing.

“It is a big, live spectacular and you are so close to it you can smell the horses, you can feel them galloping on the ground which makes it really interesting for the audience."

News Shopper: Ben Hur (Sebastian Thrun) with Esther (Lili Gesler)

A preview of the show on Tuesday showcased three key scenes from the play; a market scene, a dramatic ambush of Roman galleys by pirates on the high seas, and the chariot race scene.

The effects were certainly spectacular and the staging of the galley scene was particularly ingenious, with the enormous ships being moved across the sea (in Flintstones fashion) by the strength of the actors playing slaves.

Anticipation was high for a first look at the chariot race scene, but unfortunately the horses and riders were saving their strength for the real thing and only managed a trot around the arena.

Perhaps inspired by Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, the actors deliver their lines in Aramaic and Latin, with a cheesy American narrating the story for those ignorant of the two ancient tongues.

Quite how annoying that will be after half an hour or so into the show is anyone’s guess.

News Shopper: Ben Hur (Sebastian Thrun) takes on a gladiator

However, without seeing the show in its entirety it is difficult to form an educated opinion about what audiences can expect in terms of the quality of acting, script or story.

At the very least Ben Hur Live will be an awesome spectacle that Ceasar himself would be proud of.

Ben Hur Live. The O2 Arena, Greenwich. September 17 to 20. Tickets from £35. 0844 856 0202.