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Nativity! The Musical

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


Christmas has come early to The Grand Theatre, as this new festive favourite stops off in Wolverhampton, en route to a West End season.

The stage version of Nativity, the brainchild of Midlands writer and Director Debbie Issit, premiered at Birmingham Rep in 2017 following the considerable popularity of the film series. Just like the movies, it delivers a nice mix of feel good comedy and full on, un ashamed yuletide glitter

The story of students and staff at a Coventry primary school attempting to put on a Nativity play with a difference is a simple but undoubtedly heart warming one. There are clear parallels with ‘ School of Rock’ – another musical featuring an off the wall teacher inspiring his students to be top of their game.

Plot wise, it’s all pretty straightforward. Assistant Teacher, Mr Poppy (an endearing, delightfully silly, laugh out loud performance from Scott Paige) is drafted in to help with a primary school Nativity play. What he lacks in any teaching experience (though it helps to be related to the head teacher), he more than makes up for in unorthodox raw energy as he pushes his young charges to be simply fabulous. In essence, he’s one of the kids – just bigger and older.

There are, of course, deviations and distractions on the road in any well written story arc, and this ‘ journey’ is no exception. Running alongside the auditions and rehearsals are some nicely observed touches.

A ‘will they / won’t they?’ love story, a glimpse of Hollywood, a somewhat camp theatre reviewer (dreadful people), a cockney starlet and Mr Shakespeare, a teacher who still dreams of being a thespian. It’s all beautifully paced, allowing the comedy cameos to punctuate the full-on musical numbers in a way that suits the young and not so young members of the audience perfectly.

current cast

Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens, Dani Dyer as Polly Parker, Scott Paige as Mr Poppy and the Children of St. Bernadette's. Photo Oliver Rosser

Performances are suitably high octane throughout.

Scott Garnham plays easily the most understated character, the more sensible Mr Maddens, contrasting nicely with his altogether less pragmatic and more excitable assistant, Mr Poppy. Aside from the pressures of getting the Nativity staged, he is also missing his girlfriend, Jennifer (Ashleigh Gray) who has left him and the dog to find fame in Tinseltown. Their duets are beautifully delivered and provide a bit of soulful respite from the big musical numbers.

Charles Brunton redefines the term ‘ Luvvie’ as the actor, turned teacher, Mr. Shakespeare. His portrayal of King Herod in a Jesus Christ Superstar style number is, to say the least, surreal and left me wondering if someone had spiked my interval ice cream.

Jamie Chapman takes on multi roles with impressive versatility, whilst Penelope Woodman reaches high notes as the stressed Head Teacher, Mrs Bevan

Dani Dyer gives the producers more box office potential as the cockney ingenue, Polly Parker. References to Love Island are, of course, shoehorned into the script. To her credit, in a genre that is outside her comfort zone, she does create a defined character.

A tight and punchy ensemble create real excitement and atmosphere, backed by a terrific band that ramps up the crescendo as and when required.

What works especially well are the children’s performances. Care has been taken to avoid any schmaltzy, stage school ‘feel’ to the staging. Instead, we get ‘real’ and contemporary kids that add hugely to the setting and heart of the story. The fact that they are intrinsic rather than incidental is also key to the show’s success.

Huge, tinsel laden fun from start to finish - catch it while you can before it settles in London. To 02-11-19.

Tom Roberts


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