Touring – reviewed at Theatre Royal, Nottingham
With just five weeks before Christmas (yes FIVE weeks folks!) there is no better time to watch a revival of Nativity! The Musical. Hey, when else can you indulge in a cheesy, sparkly, feelgood, family show and emerge feeling utterly festive?
I caught the show last week at Milton Keynes Theatre and the venue was packed with families. As someone who ascribes to the Ebenezer Scrooge School of Thought, in that Christmas is nothing but humbug, I must admit I fell for the production hook, line and sinker.
Parents, if the thought of sitting through yet another (yawn) pantomime this Yule fills you with dread, then I’d recommend this dazzling, cheery musical as an outstanding alternative. Oh, and there’s a dog, the cutest little pooch ever, called Cracker (played by the delightful Pepper), who steals every scene she’s in.
The juvenile cast is outstanding, and a group of adult actors, very much in the minority, hold the whole, glorious, manic production together. Debbie Isitt has adapted (and directs) the stage show from her 2009 film, Nativity!, which starred Martin Freeman.
Paul Maddens is a former failed actor whose girlfriend, Jennifer, announced she was leaving for a career in Hollywood moments before he had been about to propose. Now, five years later, Maddens is a sullen, humourless and harassed primary school teacher who finds himself lumbered, yet again, with producing the school’s annual nativity.
But his nemesis, Gordon Shakespeare, who was at drama school with him, runs the nativity plays at a rival, posh, private school, Oakmoor, and he is determined to get the best review from theatre critic, Patrick Burns. To help Maddens out his head teacher appoints her nephew, the child-like Desmond Poppy, to act as his teaching assistant.
The infantile Poppy has an instant rapport with the kids but even he can’t save his miserable colleague when, in an act of madness, Maddens boasts to Shakespeare that Hollywood was coming to watch his nativity and film it for a movie.
How on earth is he going to save face, prevent getting the sack, and produce a glittering children’s show?
Pretty soon his little white lie escalates out of control with the entire city of Coventry become Hollywood-crazy.
West End star, Simon Lipkin, is amazingly tireless as Poppy. His clowning about endears him to everyone. It’s a magnificent performance.
Lipkin’s energy levels are off the scale as he tears around the stage with the kids, keeps the show barrelling along with one gag after another, interacts with his young co-stars, cuddles Cracker, and comes up with a masterplan to save Mr Maddens’ skin.
It’s exhausting watching him but the actor is on hyper-drive throughout. It’s hilarious.
Scott Garnham does well to keep solemn as Poppy’s straight-man, the lovesick Maddens, who eventually learns the true meaning of Christmas, and how to love again.
Andy Brady, meanwhile, has a great time playing Mr Nasty, the odious, ambitious, Gordon Shakespeare.
It’s a delight to see such professional juveniles. The kids are a real treat and all the youngsters in the audience can relate to each and every one of them.
Nativity! The Musical is a magical and riotously funny show that will appeal to audiences of all ages so ditch Snow White and Cinders and catch this Birmingham Rep production if you can.
The tour’s final date, in London, features cameo roles for TV tough guy Danny Dyer, his daughter, Love Island’s Dani Dyer, and comic Jo Brand.
A festive cracker.
Nativity! runs at Theatre Royal, Nottingham from Wednesday until Saturday before continuing its tour to Edinburgh Festival Theatre (November 28 – December 2); Regent Theatre, Stoke (December 5 – 8); Oxford New Theatre (December 11 – 15) and Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith (December 19 – 31).
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