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.
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.
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.
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.
Ambrose was the Shepherd, with her inflatable sheep, and the sinister
Innkeeper was done as a strangely alluring bully by Bob Thompson.
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.
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.
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:
first of this year's seasonal shows: Kytes' brilliant version of Tim
Firth's affectionate satire of the Nativity Play.
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.
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.
work, too, from the two Marys – Josie Bruty's fussy, perfectionist
and Tracey Richardson's spiteful rival Virgin.
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
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.