THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH – 30 NOVEMBER 2019 & TOUR
NATIVITY – THE MUSICAL
RUNNING TIME 2 HOURS 30 MINUTES – 1 interval
Theatre Royal Plymouth Box Office – 01752 267222
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 26 NOVEMBER 2019
Cute kids, cute dog, dancing stars and planets, smaltzy love story and shovel loads of sentimentality – ingredients in a show almost guaranteed to make you blench – but somehow the combination works like a dream in NATIVITY – THE MUSICAL. Whilst some may say we should be looking for more depth on the stage; seek to educate and instruct at the theatre – to them I say, the great lesson in this show is so sit back admire, smile and be thoroughly entertained. If there was a show which was needed to give the nation a sharp injection of therapeutic joy, then this one should be prescribed on the NHS.
Based on the very successful 2009 film (which spawned a series of rather less successful sequels), the show tells of the unlikely friendship of uptight teacher Paul Maddens and his loopy teaching assistant Mr Poppy and how they inspire the pupils of a failing school to mount a huge nativity show all in the name of love. The film had a number of songs which have been added to and a stage musical created which has been on the circuit for the last two years and which is heading into London again. The show pretty well follows the film much to the joy of the many fans in the audience.
Writer and Director Debbie Isitt has created a confection with great heart – it is a Christmas present absolutely bursting at the seams which will make you laugh and bring tears to the eyes and a lump to the throat; anyone who says they don’t emote to the Dear Father Christmas song is fibbing! Musically it is easy on the ear and full of variety which engages the audience aurally as much as they are engaged visually with wonderful vibrant and colourful designs by David Woodhead in both set and costume – it is a full feast! The book is very funny with plenty of laughs for both young and older – at times it veers in and out of pantomime which matters not a jot.
The small band, under Dan Glover, make a full sound, but never outplay the singers and the choreography from Andrew Wright is appropriate and fun.
The pivotal role of Mr Poppy is one which has to be judged so carefully – he is a very annoying character; childlike, camp, inattentive and zany – but, and it is an important but, he must be loved by all or the show fails – Scott Paige is a big bundle of fun and his Mr Poppy is bang-on perfect – he engages with cast and audience alike effortlessly. As Mr Maddens, Scott Garnham has the far less showy role, but he is believable and earns the affection of everyone. Ashleigh Gray has a wonderful singing voice as Mr Maddens love, Jennifer, who runs off to Hollywood leaving him desolate. Charles Brunton has enormous fun as the one-time friend, now rival teacher, Mr Shakespeare; he moves like a demented grasshopper – his performance is so over the top that you can’t help but boo him – wonderful! Less successful is Dani Dyer as Hollywood big noise, Polly Parker – her performance is as flat as her vowel sounds. Elsewhere there is great work from Penelope Woodman as head teacher Mrs Bevan and Jamie Chapman as critic Patrick Burns – among other roles. Oh, and you cannot forget Cracker the dog – yes, the cutest of cute dogs was chosen to enhance the ‘Ahhhhhh’ factor – played with great aplomb by Pepper.
And then there are the children – the resident members of St Bernadette’s School (there are two teams – Team Bethlehem appeared on Press Night) have the chance to inhabit some great characters and take part in the climactic ‘show’ – they are wonderful; funny, engaging and enthusiastic whilst performing with discipline and skill. A team of local children are brought into each venue to play the rival pupils of Oakmoor School – another crack team of talented youngsters whose precise moves show what can be achieved in a short space of time. All of the young cast throw themselves into everything and are completely triumphant.
The climax of the musical – the long awaited show within the show – is just wonderful – and is rather better than the same sequence in the film which is far too long – dancing buildings, 5 Kings, children flying high on wires and on the moon – everything is thrown at it – just when you think it’s all over there is more.
A director/producer acquaintance of mine told me that this show was their guilty pleasure. I don’t feel guilty at all in saying I hopelessly loved it. It may not be perfect – but then nothing is, but for utter joyfulness and passion you won’t get much better. As an antidote to all that makes us glum and disheartened, NATIVITY – THE MUSICAL is just the ticket.
MR MADDENS – SCOTT GARNHAM
MR POPPY – SCOTT PAIGE
POLLY PARKER – DANI DYER
JENNIFER LORE – ASHLEIGH GRAY
MR SHAKESPEARE – CHARLES BRUNTON
MRS BEVAN – PENELOPE WOODMAN
PATRICK BURNS – JAMIE CHAPMAN
MR RYE – KADE FERRAIOLO
LORD MAYOR – JONATHAN BOURNE
ENSEMBLE – HELENA PIPE, BILLY ROBERTS, DAWN BUCKLAND, ANY OXLEY, CONNOR EWING
CRACKER – PEPPER THE DOG.
THOMAS BASTABLE, EVIE BENNELL-LOW, OLIVIA BROOKS, ERIN FREEMAN, ALEXANDER HOGG, ISABEL LANDERS, ALASTAIR NGWENYA, GERALD NGWENYA, LYLA PETERS, GRACE TOWNLEY, NICHOLAS YAKIS
OAKMOOR SCHOOL DRAMA CLUB
MIA DOHERTY, LARA GILLESPIE, MILLIE GUBBY, OLIVER HOULBERG, AMYA JOHNSON, ELLA-MARIE KIMBERLEY, FINLEY RAHN, ELSIE RANDALL, CONNIE NEGUS, LUCCA NEWTON, KATIE PUGH, JAKE TASKER, LUCA TREVENA, LILY VAN VEEN, MADELINE AVA WHITE
BOOK – DEBBIE ISITT
MUSIC & LYRICS – DEBBIE ISITT & NICKY AGER
DIRECTOR – DEBBIE ISITT
SET & COSTUME DESIGN – DAVID WOODHEAD
SOUND DESIGN – TOM MARSHALL
LIGHTING DESIGN – TIM MITCHELL
CHOREOGRAPHY – ANDREW WRIGHT