Saturday, November 10, 2012


Kytes at the Brentwood Theatre

The school Nativity Play – it's a shared cultural reference for nearly everyone, from the lowliest Shepherd to the loveliest Virgin. So it's no surprise that Tim [Calendar Girls] Firth's affectionate comedy presses all the right buttons – it's our eight-year-old selves we can see up on that makeshift stage.

This deservedly popular show [the Yorkshire Television version from 1999 is still available on DVD] is brightly updated and moved down to deepest Essex by the enterprising Kytes – Jordan, the Sugar Hut, Southend, all get a look-in, and the errant stick-insect [every year 2 classroom has one] is re-baptised Mo Farah.

An excellent ensemble, directed by Hayley Joanne Bacon, bring the kids to life: fidgeting, sulking, squabbling, bullying, waving to their mums and dads, living out their fears and their fantasies. And being naively truthful about themselves, their peers and their parents.

Graham Poulteney was the all-important narrator, eager to please his Dad, with his words on cue-cards. Josie Bruty brilliantly brought Mary to life – you could see why Miss Horrocks picked her – she's goody-goody, bossy and, unique among the cast, word perfect in all the songs. Her rival for this most coveted role was Tracy Richardson's evil angel Ashley, superbly observed. I also like the other angel, Amy Clayton's Siobhan – right from the opening she established a very believable character, and was touchingly inconsolable in tears towards the end. Gary Ball's football-made Herod was hilarious on Question of Sport, and memorably took a dive, furiously mouthing and gesturing his frustration. Candy Lillywhite-Taylor was the leader of the Magi, bossing poor Adrian [Alan Ablewhite], with his lisp and posh background, who has to deliver Frankincense. Fortunately he has Justin Cartledge's special needs Donkey to advise him – their duologue was one of the best moments of a rich script.

Pam Ambrose was the Shepherd, with her inflatable sheep, and the sinister Innkeeper was done as a strangely alluring bully by Bob Thompson.

And perhaps the most convincing eight-year-old, Paul Sparrowham as the Star. His vocal delivery and his body language both rang very true as he argued astronomy and invoked his hero "Uncle" Ted.

The end of the play is perhaps the cleverest part, where we see the parents whose lives have already been innocently exposed in their children's chatter. I was less sure about the songs. They provide a crucial insight into the lives of the kids and the adults, but they did seem to slow the otherwise lively pace of the production.

I wonder how many of the appreciative Brentwood audience will be seeing a "real" Nativity play this Christmas. And whether they'll ever be able to look at life around the Manger in quite the same way again ...

and for the Brentwood Weekly News:

The first of this year's seasonal shows: Kytes' brilliant version of Tim Firth's affectionate satire of the Nativity Play.

Famous-Five-style, the kids are all played by grown-ups, digging deep into their seven-year-old psyche to recreate the angst of what is for many their first taste of the stage. A nice touch to have the programme feature old photos of the actors as children.

Hayley Joanne Bacon gets lovely performances from all of her young charges. Hard to single anyone out in this strong ensemble, but Justin Cartledge does great work from inside his cardboard box donkey head, and Paul Sparrowham is entirely convincing in the less-than-stellar role of the Star of Bethlehem, eminently watchable, even holding up the scene cloth.
Excellent work, too, from the two Marys – Josie Bruty's fussy, perfectionist and Tracey Richardson's spiteful rival Virgin.

And loads of clever detail – the giant chair for the unseen, long-suffering class teacher, the Cabbage-Patch Jesus, the peeping round the curtain, the pointing at Mum, Dad and Social Worker out front.

I blame the parents, of course, and at the end we get to see them as they gather for a festive punch and mince pie. Herod's Dad [Gary Ball] on his blue-tooth, "Uncle" Ted and, most touching of all, Tim's Dad [Graham Poulteney], now separated, who's watched his son's Narrator through the classroom window.

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