Sunday, 27 November 2022

REVIEW: Nativity! The Musical at the Birmingham Rep

Nativity! The Musical is back once more for the festive period and this year is gracing its presence in the second city, at the Birmingham Rep. An utterly joyous, thrilling and camp as Christmas production that excels in every way.

Based on Debbie Isitt’s 2009 hit Christmas film of the same name, the story follows the saga of St Bernadette’s primary school and their attempt to stage a 5-star Christmas show. Historically bad at directing the production, school teacher Mr Maddens – who hates the festive period, is forced to lead the nativity once more. When his foolhardy new teaching assistant Mr Poppy, overhears him fibbing to his friend-turned-professional enemy about Hollywood coming to watch the show, he can’t contain his excitement and soon the school, press, mayor and entire city of Coventry believe St Bernadette’s little Nativity will be made into a Hollywood blockbuster.

Billy Roberts portrays Mr Madden with the superb balance of grumpiness and genuine earnestness – slowly defrosting his icy, broken heart and realising the children are worth more than the terrible reputation of their school.

The childlike and unconventional Mr Poppy is played by Ben Lancaster, who without ego, delivers a feast of never-ending talent, immaculate comic timing and heart-warming sincerity – which can be a challenge when playing such a juvenile character. Despite having a modern take on the traditional teaching assistant and driving Mr Madden crazy with his meddling ways, Mr Poppy whole-heartedly believes in the children and their alternative talent and drags Mr Madden along for the ride.

Mr Shakespeare – Oakmore’s competitive and ruthless teacher is the devilishly eccentric villain in this show. No baddy ever seen before is as camp, flamboyant and covered in glitter as Matthew Rowland in this role.

The true heart of this show is the youngsters on stage, giving it their all. With any child-heavy show, there is always a chance of small mishaps on stage however, never have I seen a production with such strong and energetic children. This ensemble of little ones carried the whole performance with pizazz – it feels unbelievable that this is the professional debut of the majority. Special mention has to go to Matilda Flower, who was undoubtedly (sorry for the pun) the star of the show. This teeny tot had the audience beaming with joy as she delivered the cutest performance as the star of Bethlehem, leaving every spectator with a huge cheek-hurting smile.

The festive designs by David Woodhead bring the stage alive with colour, glitter and creativity – one highlight was a series of Christmas presents on stage large enough to contain the children of St Bernadette’s.

Nativity! The Musical is playing until 7th Jan 2023 and is undoubtedly the best Christmas production I have seen in many years.

Review by Esther Neville

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Seat: N31 | Price of Ticket: £47.50
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