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Nativity! the Musical - Derby Youth Musical Theatre

Reviewed by Bethany Hill

The festive season is well and truly upon us and what a way to kick things off than with a stellar performance of Nativity! The Musical by Derby’s Youth Musical Theatre company? This production certainly allowed everyone involved to Sparkle and Shine and left me feeling warm, fuzzy and ready to celebrate!

Written by Debbie Issit, Nativity tells the story of St Bernadette’s school, a primary school at the bottom of Ofsted’s league tables and struggling to compete with the local private school, Oakmoor. Broken-hearted Mr Maddens is tasked, against his will, with putting on this year’s school nativity with help from the very eccentric and unconventional Mr Poppy. However when a lie turns out of control, the whole school and community are led to believe that Hollywood are coming to visit with Madden’s ex-love, Jennifer. Chaos ensues as the school aim to put on a show ready for the big screen!

First, I have to applaud the entire cast and production team for putting on a show of such professional quality. Having previously seen the touring cast of this show, I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the performances, the staging, everything! For such a young company, the talent and professionalism of all involved was absolutely outstanding. Leading the company were Lucas Shirtcliffe (Maddens) and Arden-Caspar Jennison (Poppy), who made the perfect pairing and struck a balance of hilarious comedy with heart-warming moments. Also heavily featured were Sarah Doughty (Jennifer Lore) and Niamh Abbot (Headteacher Mrs Bevan) who also brought stunning vocals and comedy in full force. Also making his first principal role with the company was Ben Mather, who brought to life the perfect ‘baddie’ energy of Gordon Shakespeare, even eliciting boos from the audience which he played up to brilliantly. Of course, a standing ovation had to go to the children of Oakmoor and ST Bernadette’s, this afternoon played by the ‘Sparkle!’ children and their very own Cracker the dog, played by the adorable Mollie! I would also like to celebrate the fantastic comic talents of Daniel Pimperton, who brought to life the mean yet fabulous theatre critic Patrick Burns.

From a production point of view, this show made fantastic use of Derby theatre’s space including moving set pieces, harness moments and filmed and animated elements on screen featuring the cast. These helped the audience to be transformed between school, Hollywood and even Coventry’s Cathedral. The choreography for each musical number was upbeat and succinct and brought to life those so well-loved tracks including Sparkle and Shine, Good News and One Night One Moment.

Nativity is such a special show and brings both festive fun and absolutely heart-melting moments. While Mrs Bevan’s speech about every child being a pocket of stardust and the children’s performance brought a tear to my eye, by the encore I was up on my feet and dancing with Santa himself!

Whilst this show finishes its run today, I will be certain to be following Derby Youth Musical Theatre company very closely and await their 2024 production of The Phantom of the Opera with anticipation. What a way to begin the festive period!


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