If you are looking for a show that is the epitome of feelgood, family entertainment, then you must see Nativity the Musical, which is currently wowing audiences at the Birmingham Rep. I went to see the show last night with my 8 year old boy and we were both totally enchanted by a show that has so much heart and warmth.
You may remember Nativity from the Martin Freeman movie that has become a bit of a Christmas classic, but for those who haven’t seen the movie, Nativity is the tale of three childhood friends who all go into acting but fail in this chosen career. The two male actors, Mr Maddens and Mr Shakespeare, become primary teachers in two very different schools, whilst Jennifer, who is also the girlfriend of Mr Maddens, pursues her dream of working in Hollywood, leaving Maddens one Christmas. Maddens and Shakespeare get into a deep rivalry when it comes to the annual Nativity performance, both seeking a five star review from local reviewer Patrick Burns, with only Shakespeare, working at the exclusive Oakmoor School, getting it. Despondent over the loss of Jennifer, and the humiliation of the St Bernadette’s nativity, Mr Madden decides he hates Christmas. But when headteacher Mrs Bevan decides that the school is going to have another try at the nativity, and that Mr Maddens is going to be in charge, things start to catapult out of control. Add into the mix the arrival of the loveable, but slightly crazy Mr Poppy as his new classroom assistant, and you have all the ingredients for a Christmas disaster.
Nativity is a total joy, not least because of the joyous performances. The leads are just wonderful, with Simon Lipkin a standout as Mr Poppy, playing the role with the childlike exuberance it needs. His Mr Poppy isn’t just ‘down with the kids’, he is a real child-man, and is totally delightful, and so easy to fall in love with as a result. Daniel Bays, as Mr Maddens, is perfect foil for the energy of Mr Poppy, he looks uncannily like Martin Freeman in the same role, but adds balance and pathos, particularly in the scene where he reads the letters the children have wrote for Santa. Sarah Earnshaw as Jennifer is also very good, particularly in the scene where she sings the poignant ‘Jennifer’s request’, whilst Andy Brady makes Mr Shakespeare a perfect pantomime style baddy, I loved his over the top rendition of ‘Herod the Rock Opera’ which is frankly hilarious.
But as good as all those central performances are, it is the children who are at the heart of Nativity, and totally steal the show. Forget all ideas of the stage school kids that can be frighteningly professional (and slightly scary if I’m honest), the children of Nativity are adorable, totally melting the hearts of even the hardest critic. The warmth and exuberance of their performances feel totally real and natural, and each and every one of them just shine. There could not have been an audience member who didn’t have a lump in their throat during the poignant, heartfelt ‘Dear Father Christmas’ whilst the songs of the ‘Nativity’ itself are alive with humour and sass. By the time the curtain falls, after the incredibly catchy ‘Sparkle and Shine’. they have the audience on their feet, totally believing they have witnessed the rebirth of St Bernadette’s.
Nativity is a total delight, a must see for anyone with a love of musicals, the underdog, and, of course, Christmas. I hope this becomes a Christmas staple like the Rep’s other, much loved festive fair, The Snowman. If I could give it 10 stars I would. Just Fabulous.
Nativity the Musical
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
20 October – 12 November.
Click here for ticket information.