Guest Reviewer : Michelle Jacobs
Who doesn’t love a traditional school nativity play at Christmas?
Chelmsford Theatre Workshop certainly get top marks for their choice of festive offering in this, their 50th anniversary year. The challenge, however, for any theatre company staging The Flint Street Nativity is how to convincingly deliver Tim Firth’s witty and engaging script which requires adult actors to engage with their inner child to inhabit the minds of a class of 7 year olds.
With an appropriately cast ensemble of CTW regulars as well as some talented new faces, first-time co-directors, Rachel Curren and Stephanie Yorke-Edwards have proved they have done their homework. A visually arresting opening sequence makes full use of the stage to introduce us to Miss Horrocks’ class of Year 3’s as they prepare to act out the story of the birth of Jesus in their own inimitable style in front of their admiring parents.
It is followed by some strong individual performances too as we learn more about each child and the home lives that are shaping their worlds through their often hilarious, often poignant interactions with their classmates and by some cleverly adapted renditions of Christmas carols.
Lori Heather seems to revel in her spirited portrayal of Ashley as Angel Gabriel and her deep-seated jealousy of Jenny Bennett (Helen Quigley) or Mary. Their impassioned duet, ‘A Way to Kill Mary’ brings an altogether darker dimension to a sweet children’s Christmas classic.
Martin Robinson displays both a comic touch and a poignancy to his interpretation of Marcus as the influence of the mysterious and idolised ‘Uncle Ted who works for NASA’ on his understanding of his role as the Star of Bethlehem , becomes apparent. He demonstrates a strong stage presence as he ponders his mother’s words, ‘Don’t grow up like your dad’ to another well-known carol.
Chris Hudson is endearing as the Narrator trying to hold things together when everything is falling apart and Gary Mond ably engenders sympathy when the cause of his bullying nature is revealed. Mark Preston as diminutive and shy new boy Adrian cuts a comically incongruous figure as Wise Frankincense clad in an ornate regal gold-edged robe but also brings suitable pathos to the role.
Nick Mayes, Caroline Froy and Caroline Brown also put in solid child-like performances, Brown in particular having to be praised for making the role of the Shepherd and Gary Mond’s sister her own after stepping in at the last minute.
Leila Francis’ and Helen Quigley’s strengths lie in the final scenes when the cast turn to portraying the parents of the children in a telling sequence where we learn more about why the children behave as they do.
The ‘adult’ scenes also display the clever set design at work in this production. It is only when you realise the props are normal size that you realise the same items, such as the table and Miss Horrocks’ Special Place, were represented from a child’s eye view in the earlier scene. Ten out of ten for ingenuity to the set construction team. The props department also produced comic gold with the Ass’s (Ian Holding-Sutton) cardboard donkey head complete with emotively flopping ears! You will also never be able to hear ‘Ding dong merrily on high’ in the same way again after hearing Holding-Sutton’s memorable rendition!
If there is anything wrong with The Flint Street Nativity, it is that there is almost too much going on. One becomes endeared to all the characters and wants to find out more about them. However, that is an element of the script and makes Curren and Yorke-Edwards’ precise direction all the more remarkable allowing as it does, the minutiae of individual characterisations to be observable often on a very full stage.
CTW’s The Flint Street Nativity is essentially a feel good bit of festive fun but like all good comedies, as indeed with the Christmas story itself, there is a significant message to be taken away from it too.