NATIVITY!, you may remember, is a very Midlands story, written by Birmingham-born Debbie Isitt.
The BAFTA award-winning writer and director is behind the beloved 2009 film starring Martin Freeman, which was set and filmed in Coventry.
Now she has brought it to the stage and it kicks off its world-wide tour rather fittingly at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre, with familiar songs such as Sparkle and Shine, She’s the Brightest Star and Nazareth, alongside some new ones.
And, true to its roots, it features 27 talented local children from across the West Midlands.
Paul Maddens is a frustrated, under-achieving primary school teacher who once had ambitions of being successful as an actor, producer or director.
Every year St Bernadette’s Catholic school in Coventry, where he teaches, competes with a local private school, Oakmoor, to see who can produce the best nativity play.
But it’s a time of year Paul hates because his ex-girlfriend Jennifer, who attended drama school with him, left him at Christmas to pursue the bright lights of Hollywood before he got chance to propose to her.
Despite this, the St Bernadette’s headteacher Mrs Bevans tasks him with running their nativity play this year, and gives him a new class teaching assistant called Mr Poppy who turns out to be as much of a child as the rest of Paul’s class!
Daniel Boys is very likeable as the love-lorne Mr Maddens and plays well against Sarah Earnshaw, the object of his affections Jennifer.
While the show sets out to most definitely NOT be a Christmas pantomime, Andy Brady’s character of Mr Shakespeare does develop undertones of the panto villain. But this is where the comparisons end. Oh yes it is! Far from slapstick, Nativity! The Musical is a feel-good feast of family entertainment that will kickstart your Christmas countdown is spectacular style.
Congratulations to Simon Lipkin whose performance as Mr Poppy was, in my opinion, the show’s stand-out on the night. The hapless classroom assistant with a heart of gold kept the laughs coming thick and fast. And the crazy character is an ingenious way of conveying one of the important messages that lie at the heart of this very show. . . we should all embrace our inner child.
Shining stars of the show though, without a doubt, were the children themselves. Witnessing a display of wonderful talents from those so young, makes for the most lasting impression at the end of the night.
If pantomimes aren’t your thing but want to indulge is some festive theatre, you won’t do much better than this for family entertainment this year.
In a climate of doom and gloom, Nativity! The Musical offers the perfect antedote to those winter blues. I give it five ‘shining’ stars!
NATIVITY! THE MUSICAL plays at Birmingham Repertory Theatre until Saturday 12th November.