When drama school graduate turned primary school teacher Paul Maddens loses the love of his life Jennifer Lore around Christmas time, the last thing he wants to do is direct the St Bernadette’s school Nativity. With his previous attempts earning him -2 star reviews from local reviewer Patrick Burns (who favors his rival Gordon Shakespeare’s festive shows at Oakmoor School), Mr. Maddens finds himself juggling his aching heart, his new larger-than-life teaching assistant Mr. Poppy and a white lie about Hollywood that soon spirals out of control…
An exceptional cast burst onto the stage with a fantastic set and feel-good script & score that brings together all the fun and magic of Christmas. With a talented set of youngsters playing the St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor primary school students fitting perfectly with the older professional cast, this show is a must-see for audiences of all ages.
The show is based on the popular film Nativity! (the first film in the trilogy – starring Martin Freeman as Paul Maddens). The premise of the show is the same as the film, but to watch the action unfold live on stage, culminating in a show-stopping finale, is something that really must be seen.
The multi-talented star of the show is everyone’s favourite Simon Lipkin as the infamous Mr. Poppy. His energy alone can fill an empty stage, and from the moment we meet his warm, charming character he has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His exceptional vocal range, his rapport with the young members of the company and his portrayal of such an innocent, hilarious and animated character are just a few of the things that make Lipkin an absolute joy to watch on stage.
Scott Garnham is perfect as Mr. Maddens, he has such a depth and range that goes from no-nonsense primary school teacher to unlucky in love bachelor, to director of the most ambitious school nativity to date. His character really does undergo a rollercoaster ride of emotions and his endearing portrayal of his story is the glue that holds the show together.
Lipkin and Garnham’s onstage relationship whilst working with animals and children on stage is also an absolute treat for the audience. Their ability to ad-lib when things don’t quite go as planned and to ensure the show runs smoothly, all whilst staying in character, is impressive stage craft.
Other show-stealing moments come from Andy Brady as Gordon Shakespeare, the ‘posh’ school rival of Mr. Maddens who is also competing for 5 star Nativity reviews. His depiction of the smarmy, full-of-himself Mr. Shakespeare was perfect; his numbers performed alongside his excellent young team of “Oakmoorians” made for fantastic viewing, in particular his depiction of King Herod. Ashleigh Gray was also fantastic as Mr. Maddens’ long lost love interest Jennifer Lore, her soprano vocal range is stunning and a particular highlight between her and Scott Garnham is their scenes which star Pepper the real-life dog as
Jamie Chapman is hilarious as The Critic – Patrick Burns, who dishes out brutally honest reviews of the local Nativities. Jemma Churchill is excellent as St Bernadette’s Head Teacher Mrs. Bevan, her light and sincerity shines through in playing this teacher who wants to prove to the world that her pupils can achieve something amazing despite what the results on
paper might otherwise dispute – something that every parent, adult and child can relate to in this educational climate of numbers and results and under-funding and removing of the arts.
It cannot be highlighted enough how fantastic the children in this show are. They are young professionals already; they never miss a beat and appear to work in perfect tandem with the grown-up professional cast. A number of teams of children alternate playing the roles of the pupils at St Bernadette’s, and The Oakmoor School children are always local children who audition from the city of each venue. Not only do they sing and dance, but in particular the students from Mr. Maddens’ class have named speaking parts and individual recognizable characters that are played with real depth and feeling.
The entire show has been directed superbly by Writer and Director Debbie Isitt. The show is so fresh, the pace is never dropped once, and there are a few topical and local references thrown in that must change throughout the tour. The show is kept moving by cleverly thought out scene changes that use the characters to move set, and become parts of the set at times. There are beautifully crafted montages particularly in the Hollywood section of the show, and this is all before the pure excellence of the main event and finale.
The set by David Woodhead is so brilliantly minimal and adaptable it sees the show move seamlessly from one scene to the next.
This show is perfect for audiences of all ages. Whilst one minute you will hear the delighted squeals of young audience members laughing at a child (doing the floss or a dab) on stage, the next minute you will hear the belly laughter of the adults from a joke that passes straight over all the children’s heads.
This really is the most perfect hilarious, heart-warming festive treat you can hope to see this Christmas.
Oh, and the review? 5 stars!
Nativity plays Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent until Saturday 8th December before it moves to Oxford next week. To buy tickets click here: www.atgtickets.com/shows/nativity-the-musical