The Rep, Birmingham – until 7 January 2023
Guest reviewer: Julia Spargo
Christmas has exploded over Birmingham in a shower of confetti with the arrival of Nativity! The Musical, written and directed by Debbie Isitt.
Already a fan of Nativity, the 2009 film starring Martin Freeman, I was curious as to what to expect from a stage adaptation. The creator of both screen and stage productions, Isitt has kept the original plot; a love story, a rivalry between two local primary schools and the friendship between the unlikely pairing of teaching staff Mr Maddens and Mr Poppy, and added more songs, more jokes, and an energy that seems to pulsate off the stage.
From the initial number, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus (M.A.D.A)’ to the finale of ‘Sparkle and Shine’, the musical is a burst of sheer exuberance. The ambitious set design changes settings seamlessly between the interior of Mr Maddens’ home, St Bernadette’s Primary School, Oakmoor Prep School, Hollywood and Coventry Cathedral. The lighting effects grab the attention, from Mr Poppy’s initial entrance using the spotlight in a gag, to a touching scene in which the audience is invited to use its phone torches to light the stage.
Ben Lancaster is hilarious as Desmond Poppy, the hapless but loveable new teaching assistant assigned to Mr Maddens’ class at St Bernadette’s. He brings an infectious joy to the stage in every scene.
‘Herod the Rock Opera’ features Matthew Rowland as a fabulously camp Mr Shakespeare in an Alice Cooper-esque pastiche that was lost on my children but I loved. It also picks the pace up after a slight lull in the beginning of Act II.
Special mention must go to each of the wardrobe team (Denis Blatchford, Michelle Shaw, Melanie Francis, Roanne Bray, Daisy Dunne, Chloe Fundak, Helen Reeves, Amelia Whittaker, Georgia Cooper and Andriea Nelson) for the sheer number of costume changes; there are at least 30 children in the cast with some very elaborate costumes.
If the spirit of Christmas has yet to grab you, or you find yourself feeling jaded by world events, get yourself to Birmingham Rep this December and revel in the fun. There’s even a cute dog in it.
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