[Press Tickets provided in exchange for a review]
Most of us all know the story of the Nativity; for many, it’s a staple of Christmastime in Britain, along with mince pies, selection boxes, Wizzard and tinsel. We’ve all known the thrill of being picked to play Mary or Joseph, and the crushing disappointment – or relief! – of being the tree, or one of a whole flock of sheep.
Nativity! The Musical kicks this age-old tradition up a notch. It would be obvious to say that the show is all-singing, all-dancing – isn’t that what a musical is all about?! – but this really is a spectacular show for all the family.
You may have seen the 2009 film of the same name, which features Martin Freeman in the lead role as grumpy Mr Maddens; now the story has come to stages across the UK on tour. Christmas has officially arrived in Southampton at the Mayflower Theatre.
The basic plot follows heartbroken scrooge Paul Maddens; a primary school teacher and former thespian who has shunned Christmas since losing his girlfriend Jennifer. Having been lumbered with the burden of producing St Bernadette’s Nativity this year, and faced with his competitive nemesis Mr Shakespeare, his cold heart slowly thaws thanks to his new, joyously juvenile teaching assistant Mr Poppy and the enthusiasm of his class.
The result? The modest primary-school production gets a huge makeover, with Wise Men forming a boyband, a rock-n-roll Gabriel, and even a questionable camel dressed as Elton John.
I loved the movie; and as always, when faced with an adaptation, I was dubious. I had high expectations and was hoping they’d be met.
I had no need to be such a Grinch; boy oh boy, did this show sparkle and shine.
Nativity! is such a gift to the audience: a sensational cast (where children outnumber adults!), a dazzling set, and the kind of pure joy that only comes with a Christmas production, all neatly wrapped up in a bright bow that any elf would be proud of.
The cast is equal to, in my opinion, that of the original film. Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens is brilliantly grouchy on the outside but slowly reveals his true colours as the show goes on. His on-stage relationship with Mr Poppy (played by Scott Paige) is fantastic, with so much banter and playfulness.
Speaking of whom, Paige’s Poppy is the star on top of this evergreen festive production. His childlike enthusiasm, quick wit and silliness are a hit with adults and children alike, and his humour and glee are infectious. He is really wonderful to watch!
Charles Brunton’s power-hungry Gordon Shakespeare is every inch the pantomime villain in this show; he has something of the ‘Mr Burns’ about him, and his physical comedy and competitive character are fantastic. It’s hard to know whether to boo or cheer when he takes his bow.
The many children in the production are superb, too. They throw themselves into their roles, and clearly have so much fun being a part of this bright and bold musical. There are some excellent performers within the bunch.
You may have seen that Love Island’s Dani Dyer is also making an appearance in Nativity! Hers is one of the only new roles in the story, possibly written in to add the ‘showbiz’ factor. While it’s not a pivotal part, and she is by no means an actor by trade, she does clearly enjoy being a member of the cast, and her moment singing with one of the children is, admittedly, very sweet.
I was delighted that the whole show is pretty much true to the plot of the film, including many of the much-loved songs and small moments that make the story special. It’s well-paced and action-packed.
There is no expense spared on the gorgeous set, either, which has all the qualities of a west-end spectacle. A gorgeous title hangs in front of the curtains at the start, surrounded by stars which frame each scene like a Christmas card. With some simple yet effective scene changes and some clever uses of props, it has a magical quality that is sure to captivate even the most fidgety of children.
The show balances the bright, bold and barmy with the sentimentality that this time of year often brings. It’s got the perfect mix of heartwarming nostalgia and goofishness which just radiates happiness.
Nativity! The Musical is pure festive, feelgood fun, and you’re sure to get swept up in the magic and mayhem that ensues. Gordon Shakespeare would be green with envy; the production thoroughly deserves five gold stars.
This show is the perfect modern alternative Christmas show if pantomimes aren’t your thing, and really is great entertainment for all ages and all family members.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas, and grab a ticket to this production before it’s too late.
Nativity! The Musical is at Mayflower Theatre until 7 December 2019.
Images provided by Mayflower Theatre; credit: The Other Richard
Tickets gifted by Mayflower Theatre, but as always, my opinions are all completely honest, unbiased and my own