Nativity! The Musical – Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer and Director: Debbie Isitt

Music: Nicky Ager and Debbie Isitt

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

It’s Christmas. Got it? Halloween is over, the nights draw in and whilst it may be tremendously early for some – Christmas has hit Edinburgh. Nativity! The Musical is no school production with not a single tea towel robe in sight, and only a few drunk uncles. The newest venture in the Nativity library, based on the original 2009 film. As Mr Maddens fights a broken heart, irritating teaching assistants and King Herod to stage a winning Nativity.

To be a true festive classic, we can deal with the cheese, we can even subject ourselves to the twerking (just) but one thing has to be there: heart. Nativity the musical is nothing but heart, smiles and that oh so sickening urge to just feel warm inside. A large quantity of this comes from the local children who turn in utterly spectacular performances. Giving comedy, vocals, dance moves and one rather talented lad in his best Lady Gaga leotard.

With a variety of exponentially talented performers from across theatre, Nativity! lines itself up with a stellar cast it can rely on. Whilst it would be cruel to single any performer as the stand-out, it has to be done for Simon Lipkin. Lipkin’s Mr Poppy embodies childhood innocence, ridiculousness and all that is Christmas. In what could be such an irritating character, Lipkin does nothing but make you cherish him. More than this he heightens those around him, Garnham’s outbursts are even more hilarious when directed at Lipkin.

Alongside Lipkin, Scott Garnham brings the cookie cutter primary school teacher to a life as Mr Maddens. The two offer a steady pathos throughout, as the adult performers with real investment in the plot. Saying this, both Andy Brady and Ashleigh Gray deliver marvellous roles, Gray’s voice – though not often heard, belts out into the theatre.

Though, one thing has to be made clear – after witnessing Brady’s rendition as Mr Shakespeare the world needs, neigh deserves to have King Herod the Rock Opera a real thing. As with the original cinematic Nativity! this one shares a deep-rooted British humour. There are physical gags, references aplenty and of course one or two lewd jokes sliding under the kids’ radar. Delivering that dry, snarky humour is the magnificent Jo Brand, who brings that added nod of the traditional Christmas celeb in a show.

There must be a mistake in regard to the set design, perhaps the Westend got mixed up with the touring production? David Woodhead’s design is simply mesmeric for a touring production. It has weight to it, and not just due to the thousands of lights on display. Speaking of which, what kind of Christmas production wouldn’t be drowning in twinkling, glittering gleams of a fluorescent light?

Tim Mitchell’s lighting design captures the real moment Nativity! The Musical becomes a Christmas classic. Our finale takes place in an elegantly lit, simplistic but tremendously effective set piece of Coventry Cathedral. Debbie Isitt’s script allows for all those gushy moments we crave at this time of year, and in this setting, they fall into every nook and cranny of the heart.

Despite its scale, lights and effects – this production still somehow maintains the spirit of a town hall production. It doesn’t feel like a cash-in, the effort involved is astounding for what may easily have been a quick festive piece to capitalise on a name. Nativity! the Musical is a production with staying power, perhaps enough to take over its namesake as a Christmas tradition.

Runs until 2 December 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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