Na­tiv­ity! The Mu­si­cal

The Week - - Arts -

Writer and direc­tor: Deb­bie Isitt Birm­ing­ham Reper­tory The­atre, Broad Street, Birm­ing­ham Un­til 12 Novem­ber; then tour­ing un­til 6 Jan­uary 2018 (www.na­tiv­i­tythe mu­si­cal.com) Run­ning time: 2hrs 40mins (in­clud­ing in­ter­val)

“Sparkle and shine!” cho­rus the chil­dren of the fic­tional St Ber­nadette’s pri­mary school, Coven­try. And my good­ness, Deb­bie Isitt’s stage ver­sion of her hugely suc­cess­ful Na­tiv­ity! film se­ries cer­tainly does both, said Do­minic Cavendish in The Daily Tele­graph. This “feel­good bo­nanza” boasts “lav­ish sets stud­ded with flash­ing stars; giant gift parcels”; over-thetop cos­tumes that “wouldn’t dis­grace a Broad­way mu­si­cal” – and a fi­nale filled with “fusil­lades of golden stream­ers”. Short of “haul­ing on a rein­deer and un­leash­ing a mass of py­rotech­nics”, I’m not sure what else writer-direc­tor Isitt could have done to “glitz up pro­ceed­ings fur­ther”. It all goes on rather too long, and the fa­mil­iar story lacks sur­prise, but even so: it’s “hard to re­sist”.

For this “warm-hearted” fam­ily stage show, Isitt has stuck closely to the plot of the first Na­tiv­ity! film, said Diane Parkes on What­son Stage.com. Hav­ing told an id­i­otic lie to an old ri­val from a posh pri­vate school, Mr Mad­dens, a stressed school­teacher from the fail­ing St Ber­nadette’s school, needs to en­tice a Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer to come and watch its school na­tiv­ity play. And he only has the “goofy” teach­ing as­sis­tant Des­mond Poppy to help him. The pro­duc­tion (Isitt’s, that is, not Mr Mad­dens’) is blessed with great songs, lively per­for­mances from the adults, and a su­perb cast of 27 “in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile” chil­dren, all re­cruited from the West Midlands, who are both funny and mov­ing. This re­ally is “Christ­mas come early”.

I fell for this “heart­felt hit” of a show within min­utes, said Ann Tren­e­man in The Times. The chil­dren are a “de­light”, the story a warm-hearted joy, and Si­mon Lip­kin is “mar­vel­lous as the de­mented teach­ing as­sis­tant”, Mr Poppy. “You hit ev­ery note!” he tells one child (who hit none) as she beams, specs askew, pig­tails danc­ing. This show may not be as sub­ver­sively funny as Matilda or as slickly pro­duced as School of Rock, two pro­duc­tions “with which it shares an affin­ity”, said Mark Shen­ton in The Stage. But it has catchy songs, Christ­mas cheer and charm aplenty: I could eas­ily see it be­com­ing a “sea­sonal sta­ple”.

A su­perb cast with Christ­mas cheer

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