Reviewed by Lindsay Burton
The festive season has arrived in true style with this loveable stage version of the 2009 British family favourite, Nativity! The story takes us on a seasonal journey of a struggling Coventry school, already in special measures, that goes head-to-head with a rival school in trying to stage their yearly Christmas play, and hoping somehow to attract Hollywood interest.
Every child in every school has at one time or another had a Christmas wish, to star in their school Nativity, and at St Bernadette’s School they’ve embarked on producing a musical version! Join teacher Mr Maddens and his silly assistant, Mr Poppy, as they struggle with hilariously talented children and a great big dollop of sparkle and shine to make everyone’s Christmas wish come true.
All of your favourite sing-a-long songs from the smash-hit films including Sparkle and Shine, Nazareth and One Night One Moment feature in this jolly production.
The film’s writer and director Debbie Isitt, along with the film’s co-composer Nicky Ager, have written the significantly expanded score – the film has six numbers; the stage version, including reprises, has 21 – and there are some memorably catchy tunes. But with three rotating teams of nine child performers, the score is mainly a vehicle to showcase their diminutive, scrappy charms.
Simon Lipkin has a subversive and easy pleasantness as a disruptive teacher’s assistant, Mr Poppy, who helps the kids discover their talents. There’s also a nicely contained performance from Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens, the teacher charged with directing the show, while dealing with his own heartbreak when his girlfriend (the lovely Ashleigh Gray) pursues a dream career in Los Angeles.
While many of the performances are comedic, Lipkin and Garnham invest their roles with a more tangible sense of risk: they both could potentially lose something very dear to them and their performances bring depth and grit to the story.
I was slightly apprehensive about a film as big as Nativity being turned into a stage musical – there’s always a chance it could ruin the original, making me dislike the hit we love so much as a family. Could anyone really be as fabulous as the on-screen Mr Poppy? Would we feel as connected? But from the moment Simon Lipkin, wearing his 70s style navy and orange parka, bursts onto the stage, he is every inch the ‘Mr Poppy’ we love!
He had my daughter in hysterics with his playground chants – ‘Miss, miss, I can’t do this, I’ve got my knickers in a right old twist’, while the grown-ups were just as amused by the adult humour – ‘Kardashians house being very big at the bottom but not much upstairs’.
And there’s plenty more where that came from.
The production follows the film very closely only deviating now and again with side splitting moments!
Scott Garnham, (who looks like the film’s Martin Freeman) the demotivated and sad teacher whose girlfriend Jennifer pursued her dreams and ‘took Christmas with her’ to the States, plays a brilliant Mr Maddens.
And while Mr Poppy brings the jovial and silly antics, it’s Mr Maddens – in his ‘two shades of grey’ – who adds the raw emotion to the show. It wasn’t just his pupils crying when he declared his sadness at having to leave St Bernadette’s behind, every member of the audience felt his pain!
And talking of pupils, Nativity could never work without them and what a talented performance from each and every one of them – from their hilarious audition routines to their polished performances on the big night of their Coventry Cathedral show, they give it their all – and it certainly pays off.
David Woodhead’s set and costumes, Andrew Wright’s intentionally undemanding choreography and Emmerdale’s Adam Thomas making his stage debut, adds to this production’s high energy and passion.
One cannot help but love every second of this show, hoping and praying that Hollywood arrives! And cheering when it does! They school delivers on their promise to ‘sparkle and shine’ – and every bit was pure Christmas magic.
Tickets cost from £14.40 to £59.90 (plus £3.65 transaction fee).
Nativity! The Musical is at the Regent Theatre in Stoke from 5-8 December 2018, for more information or to book tickets visit www.atgtickets.com/regent-theatre or call the box office on 0844 871 7649.
Regent Theatre, Piccadilly, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 1AP | 0844 871 7649