Magnificent Nativity The Musical will get you into the Christmas spirit
I defy anyone to leave the theatre after watching Nativity The Musical without a smile resembling a Cheshire cat and an aching jaw from all the laughter.
This magnificent show is enjoying a run at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham until Sunday and (excuse the pun/reference) is packed with sparkle and shine.
What’s more, if this stage adaptation of the smash-hit movie which starr Martin Freeman doesn’t get you into the festive spirit, then start thinking about changing your name to Scrooge.
The show is colourful, fast-paced, action-packed, brilliantly acted and, above all, laugh-out-loud funny.
And it also has a sprinkle of added kudos thanks to a cameo as a Hollywood producer from Eastenders’ Charlie Brooks.
Set in Coventry, the backdrop is the bond between three childhood friends — Paul Maddens, Gordon Shakespeare and Jennifer Lore — who harbour ambitions of becoming big stars.
They go on to study drama, but as romance blossoms between Paul and Jennifer, goals begin to alter with Christmas-loving Paul becoming a primary school teacher at the less-than-fashionable St Bernadette’s.
Life seems good with Paul and Jennifer living together and, as the festive season arrives, Paul plans to propose. But his life is turned upside down when Jennifer gets the offer to pursue her dreams and head to Hollywood.
Paul backs her decision but it breaks his heart and destroys his Christmas spirit in the process.
As for his work life, that too is on the rocks, especially when it comes to directing the school Nativity.
It is something he vows never to do again after attracting a minus-two star review from newspaper critic Patrick Burns — in the same year former pal Gordon Shakespeare collects another five-star review as teacher/director at the snooty Oakmoor Preparatory School.
But when Mr Maddens is forced back into the directorial hotseat by head teacher Mrs Bevan, his life starts to unravel again thanks to a lie that Hollywood — and Jennifer — will be heading to the Midlands to make a film based on St Bernadette’s Nativity show.
The whole city hits feverpitch with Mr Maddens caught in the middle with his pupils, who many have consigned to the scrapheap, given real hope for the first time.
Every member of the cast plays a part in raising the bar in this marvellous show but, for my money, there are two key elements that really ramp up the experience.
The first is classroom assistant Mr Poppy. Played brilliantly by the multi-talented Simon Lipkin, Poppy is irrepressible with nothing beyond his imagination or child-like outlook. Cue a 100mph performance covering everything from death slides to forging consent forms so kids can head out to Los Angeles.
Lipkin, clad in 1980s nostalgic T-shirts, must be absolutely worn out after every show. But it is worth every bead of sweat.
However, his performance would not be able to hit the heights that it does without the young cast of stars who master everything from comedy timing, self-deprecating humour, singing, dancing and, at times, being man-handled by Mr Poppy.
Scott Garnham is terrific as Mr Maddens and plays the perfect foil to Poppy’s high jinks. Ashleigh Gray’s voice brings Jennifer to life and Andy Brady does a fabulous job as Mr Skaespeare with the trio showing true chemistry.
Jemma Churchill makes the role of Mrs Bevan her own despite it having been played by the legendary Pam Ferris in the movie, while the versatile Jamie Chapman evokes memories of Alan Carr as critic Burns.
The whole experience is one sprinkled with stardust and festive magic and is one not to be missed, especially the dynamic finale set in Coventry Cathedral.
For more information on the Nottingham performances CLICK HERE to visit the Theatre Royal website.