Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Nativity! The Musical

Debbie Isitt
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Palace Theatre, Manchester
29 November 2017 to 03 December 2017

Everyone loves a good underdog story. Throw in cute kids, catchy tunes, a real-life pooch, and you’ve got a tale to leave no heart-string un-pulled.

Writer, Debbie Isitt knows how to pen a winner. Currently working on the fourth installment of her Nativity film series, it’s an idea showing no signs of slowing down. Considering its popularity, perhaps it’s surprising the story took so long to make it to the stage. Watching, however, it’s easy to see why a live version took so long.

The musical takes the story of the first film, two old drama school friends, now primary school teachers warring over who can direct the best Nativity. Andy Brady makes an entertaining pantomime villain out of Mr Shakespeare, leading the privileged kids at posh, Oakmoor Prep. Meanwhile, our Cinderella of the piece, Mr Maddens (Daniel Boys) is struggling at his Ofstead-failing school, St Bernadette’s, whose previous Nativity was panned by local Alan Carr style critic (Jamie Chapman).

Step in fairy godmother, Mr Poppy (Simon Lipkin), a manic teaching assistant whose energy and humour saves the day in every sense – rescuing the musical from schmaltz with his playground rap and slapstick pranks.

But this isn’t a show about the adults. This is a show for children about children. And it feels like Isitt, who also directs, has done a Mr Poppy – asked youngsters what they would like to see, then given them everything.

There is a lavish set with huge wrapped-presents, sparkling stars, flying youngsters, snow, coloured lights and gold streamers. Even the school yard has the attraction of a sweet shop, with fluorescent hula-hoops, skipping ropes and bright-blue footballs. The children near me had their faces pushed over the seats in front to get closer – it was magical to watch how well Isitt had cast her spell.

How Birimingham Rep found so many fantastic little actors, is another bit of magic to add the real Sparkle and Shine to this production. Heart-warming and hilarious – Debbie Isitt has another winner.

Reviewer: Carmel Thomason

Comments

Comment by David Cunningham

Director and author Debbie Isitt achieves a high level of authenticity with Nativity! The Musical.  The enthusiastic (if anything that’s an under-statement’ ecstatic’ might be nearer the mark) involvement of three rotating teams of nine child performers ensures that there is a very real sense of a school production. I’m not entirely comfortable with watching performers younger than my grandchildren doing the occasional bump and grind number but there is no doubt that the success of the show lies with the young performers and Simon Lipkin’s irrepressible Mr Poppy. Nativity! The Musical is shameless in manipulating the tear ducts of the audience going so far as to bring a doggie on stage very early in the first Act.