FamilyMusicalNorth WestReview

Nativity – Palace Theatre, Manchester

Lyrics and Music: Nicky Ager and Debbie Isitt

Writer/Director: Debbie Isitt

Reviewer” Matthew Forrest

It is my firm belief that celebrating Christmas should be kept to December: we seem to be beginning our festivities earlier and earlier each year, however in honour of the arrival of Nativity, to the Palace Theatre Manchester I’m prepared to make an exception because if ever there was a production to get you into the Christmas spirit than this is it. It is jam-packed with glitter, tinsel, fun, and warmth, you would have to be on a par with a certain Ebenezer Scrooge to not enjoy this production.

It is based on the 2009 British film of the same name-that proved an instant hit, starting a mini-franchise and spawning two sequels. Our story begins with three best friends, Paul Maddens (Daniel Boys), Jennifer Lore (Sarah Earnshaw) and Gordon Shakespeare (Andy Brady). All three are jobbing actors hoping to make the big time, however when Paul and Jennifer fall in love, Paul takes the sensible option of steady work as a teacher at St Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School, however one Christmas Hollywood come calling for Jenifer, she jets of to L.A to follow her dream, leaving a heartbroken Paul, and the adorable dog Cracker, and Paul with a loathing of Christmas.

In the meantime, Gordon has also gone into teaching too, at the Oakmoor Academy, where his Christmas productions garner five-star reviews every year and heap pressure on St Bernadette’s. With St Bernadette’s placed in special measures and under constant threat of closure, headmistress, Mrs. Bevan (Jemma Churchill), has once again put Paul in charge of directing the school nativity, with the help of her nephew – well-meaning, childlike classroom assistant Mr. Poppy (Simon Lipkin). Can Mr. Maddens and Mr. Poppy not only put on the best school production ever but save the school and Christmas at the same time? In addition, will Paul win back the love of his life, Jenifer?

Nativity had me grinning from ear-to-ear right from the get-go, packed full with cracking one-liners, great set-pieces and some truly wonderful performances from all concerned. Boys and Lipkin are a great double-act as Mr. Maddens and Mr. Poppy: the onstage chemistry bursts off the stage, and you firmly invest in what they are both trying to achieve. Andy Brady is on fine form as the jealous villain Mr. Shakespeare, and Sarah Earnshaw is good if somewhat underutilized as Jennifer. However undoubtedly the stars of the show are the young cast of actors who make up the children of St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor Academy: they light up the stage and throw themselves into their roles, so much so that their fellow cast members were in stitches.

The story is a bit of a nonsense and has some gaping plots resembling an advent calendar on the 24th December, however, this is firmly in the tradition of the feel good, ‘underdog’ story that’ll warm you heart on a cold winters night. In addition, some of the slower musical numbers are unmemorable and get lost in the deck when compared to the more elaborate full ensemble songs like Sparkle and Shine and One Night, One Moment.

The main strength with this production is it never takes itself too seriously, and is somewhat rough around the edges: there were a few fluffed lines and a few mis-steps here and there, but that just adds to the charm and fully in the spirit of school productions across the land. There will be other more polished productions about this Christmas, but I guarantee none will have the heart and spirit of Nativity.

This a fantastic family show, that will have you on your feet by the end, filled with fun, and humour, without being saccharine. My wish for next year is that if they do a sequel where we get to see a full version of Herod the Rock Opera!

Runs until the 3rd December | Image: Richard Davenport

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The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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