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Nativity! the Musical - Knighton Park Amateur Operatic Society Reviewed

Reviewed by Emma Bamford

Every child in every school has one Christmas wish – to star in a Nativity – and at St. Bernadette’s School they’re attempting to mount a musical version! Only trouble is, teacher Mr Maddens has promised that a Hollywood producer is coming to see the show to turn it into a film …

The cast of Nativity! Photo by Poyner and Mee

It’s impossible to watch ‘Nativity! The Musical’ without feeling all Christmassy by the end of it (which means if you don’t like Christmas, you’re going to be sitting in the wrong place for the next two hours). With a bit of audience interaction, it bridges the gap nicely between now and Proper Panto Season. The set design is simple but effective, with Christmas presents literally covering the walls, and a black backdrop with twinkly lights.
The adult cast are vastly outnumbered by kids, but a show about a primary school nativity would be ridiculous with no children. There were a couple of standout children in the cast, however; Harvey Clarridge, as Ollie, was both heartbreaking and hilarious in equal measure. The ‘Dear Father Christmas’ song, sung by a group of the children, really tugs on the heartstrings.
Onto the adult cast …
Daniel Rowberry as Paul Maddens, the beleaguered teacher still in love with his ex, gives a great performance. He plays the part perfectly well and has a fantastic singing voice. It would be easy to make Maddens stressed out and hysterical, but Dan really makes you feel for what could potentially be quite a two-dimensional character. His comic pairing with Ed Turner as the chaotic classroom assistant Mr Poppy is brilliant. Mr Poppy has clearly never read the ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ paper but from the moment he arrives on stage, dinosaur lunchbox in hand and singing ‘My Very First Day at School’, you can’t help but warm to him. Ed does a brilliant job at making what could be an annoying character really likeable. Mr Poppy also acts as a narrator throughout the show, introducing other characters at the beginning and having some banter with the audience as the show goes on.
Grace Bale, Alex Thompson and Keziah Caldwell give solid performances as Jennifer (Maddens’ ex-girlfriend), Gordon Shakespeare (ex-friend of Jennifer and Paul, and teacher at rival school Oakmoor Prep) and Mrs Bevan (St Bernadette’s headteacher) respectively. Alex in particular gives fantastic Big Villain Energy, emerging at one point to play King Herod in an outfit that really has to be seen to be believed (but probably isn’t that Biblically accurate). Grace’s beautiful singing voice is on top form, and her duets with Dan really show it off. Keziah brings some understated comic relief to her part, as she cringily demonstrates how she’s “down with the kids”. Although Keziah was brilliant with the material she was given, it was an odd casting choice; there is no way on earth that Keziah is nearing retirement age, as Mrs Bevan states she is towards the end of the show!
A special mention should go to Martin Green and David Lovell; both local musical theatre legends in their own right, they excel in the part’s they’ve been given. David has the befuddled Lord Mayor down to a tee, and Martin really hams up his opportunity to play bitchy theatre critic Patrick Burns.

There seem to be some odd directorial choices scattered throughout the show. I am not a fan of lead actors doubling up to play other parts in different scenes. During a scene in Hollywood, the ensemble mills around dressed like your typical tourists, down to bumbags and sunglasses. In a particular example Alex Thompson is one of them, rocking up in shades and a baseball cap; considering his character spends most of the show spying on the St. Bernadette’s nativity, it took me a long moment to realise he was playing a generic tourist, and not engaging in further spying shenanigans. The Hollywood tomfoolery scenes also went on a bit too long for me with a certain energy lost without the presence of Mr Poppy. The production had way too many children for what was actually needed; although real life class sizes are abysmal, we don’t need to see it replicated on stage. Some of the time it seemed like people were just standing around on the stage with nothing specific to do. Changes to the creative team may have contributed to the sense of confusion I felt from the cast at some points throughout the show.
The ensemble on the whole couldn’t be faulted; a special mention goes to Lucy Vickery whose angelic soprano harmonies in one song couldn’t be faulted. A further special mention goes to Kerry Smith for playing the “pushy stage mum” character to perfection! Choreographer Ellie Newbrooks really gets the chance to showcase her skills with the ensemble dances in particular. The whole cast routines also have some great choreography moments, but I can’t imagine it was easy corralling 20-odd kids into a routine!
The musical direction from Reece Crane was of a high standard. The band were fantastic; the singing was a off-key at times but I’m putting this solely down to it being the first time anyone has “properly” performed the show on stage. A lovely musical moment came from Mr Poppy playing a delightful kids’ keyboard as he and Maddens compose the tune to one of their nativity songs; this segues nicely into the keyboard player in the actual band playing the same number. 

There’s a lovely moment during ‘One Night, One Moment’ when Alex as Gordon Shakespeare pulls the plug on the lights meaning everything is cast into darkness until Mr Poppy asks everyone with a phone to turn on their torches. This makes for a really beautiful moment and connection between the audience and the cast.
Overall, it was a delightful show. Putting aside any nerves and errors, I can only see this production going from strength to strength as the week goes on. By the end of the week, I strongly suspect the audiences will be up on their feet, ‘sparkling’ and ‘shining’ along with the cast!
Have a great week, guys!
NOTE: I was lucky enough to see the dress rehearsal of ‘Nativity!’. With only one tech and one dress rehearsal, I’ve put aside any technical errors as I don’t think this would be fair to comment on, and instead looked at the show as a whole.

A few edits have been made by Mark after the first night performance - The audience roared with delight by the end of the show and you can’t ask for more praise than that.

Photo by Poyner and Mee

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