Reviewed by Jenny Bray
A Christmas themed musical in November that’s not a pantomime, oh go on then. There are various decorations up and the shops are being filled with gift ideas so it actually seemed quite fitting to get in the Christmas spirit and attend this, even though I refuse to let my husband put our Christmas tree up at home yet.
It was on at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield. The theatre is a lovely old building in the city centre. At the Charles Street Q parks, just a short walk from the theatre, you can get the first hour free if you get a ticket from a member of the theatre staff. Within the theatre are two bars, one on each level, and a kiosk that sells sweets and ice cream as well as an area next to the box office that sells merchandise. All the staff were very welcoming and friendly.
Debbie Isitt, wrote and directed the 2009 film that the musical is based on and has then been the one to turn it in to a touring musical. More songs have been added in for the stage. The narrator (Simon Lipkin) starts by telling the story of Mr Maddens (Daniel Boys), Jennifer Lore (Sarah Earnshaw) and Gordon Shakespeare (Andy Brady) growing up together and their dream jobs. As they get older Mr Maddens and Jennifer end up together. However, when she goes off to pursue her dream in Hollywood at Christmas time, when he is about to propose, he is left heartbroken instead and no longer liking Christmas. Mr Maddens is a teacher at St Bernadette’s Catholic School in Coventry, which is in special measures. Gordon Shakespeare ends up at Oakmoor Preparatory School, which is clearly for privileged children.
Competition starts when Gordon Shakespeare gets a 5-star review for the Christmas show his school put on, yet Mr Maddens gets -2 stars for his. The reviewer who gives the ratings (Jamie Chapman) comes on stage and says his review on each occasion, in a very witty way. Mr Maddens vows to never get involved in a Christmas show again. However, 5 years later, he is told to lead the Christmas production at the school again. He even has a new teaching assistant starting, Mr Poppy (transformed narrator, Simon Lipkin), who is very childlike himself. Mr Poppy has lots of ideas for the show but Mr Maddens isn’t keen. When he bumps into his old friend Gordon, who is now his arch rival when it comes to school Christmas shows, a little lie he tells quickly spirals out of hand. It leaves them trying to create and perform a spectacular musical nativity that ends up being set in Coventry cathedral.
Simon Lipkin was the actor who stole the show for me. His character was cheeky, funny and interacted really well with the audience and the child actors. I also really liked Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens, a more serious part but also fun and well acted. The way the two interacted from Mr Maddens initially despising him to gradually warming to him was great to watch.
The children were all great characters and full of energy on stage. They performed their parts well and were great at acting. Some of their singing wasn’t that great though, although I think some of this was also due to sound levels during a couple of scenes as I couldn’t hear some of them very well at times. They provided the ‘cute’ factor to the show although the show also involved a dog, Cracker (Pepper) who received lots of oohs and aahs for cuteness.
I particularly liked the scene where Mr Maddens is encouraged to read the letters to Santa that all the children have written and they all appear on a bunk bed to sing their parts. I also liked the all singing, all dancing songs at the end.
The stage is set with different layers of sparkly blue stars, with various other settings coming in to play for different scenes. There’s a huge golden trophy with shelves of gold trophies within it when there are Oakmoor scenes. There are huge candy canes with dancing Christmas trees and elves at the start and then more homely settings and other school settings for St Bernadette’s. There were quite a lot of bits of set that moved, either sideline set or pieces being moved on and off stage and it all worked well.
There was a technical hitch during this show, which resulted in the curtain coming down after the first song after the interval. This was a shame for this particular show as it made the children in the audience restless but obviously couldn’t be helped. It looked like it had been a problem with the large ‘Nativity’ sign not going up fully, which would have had a knock-on effect with other props if not resolved. It would have been better to provide a little more of an explanation to the audience to explain it rather than just put the safety curtain down and then leave us all guessing though as we had no idea how long we’d be waiting.
There was a good mix of puns for the adults in the audience as well as funny bits to keep all ages entertained. The story was up to date with mentions of selfies and Ed Sheeran’s appearance in Game of Thrones.
I took my 7-year-old along to this show and he fitted in well with the rest of the audience, of which around half were of a similar age to him. On the down side this meant that there were lots of sweet wrapper rustling noises throughout the whole performance, but that’s a minor side to taking children to see a show. I didn’t realise that you can get a booster cushion for children to sit on so they can see the show a bit better. A lady behind us pointed it out and actually went and got one for my son.
The adults held the show together, but the children were a large part of the show. It was refreshing to see a Christmas themed show, on not far from Christmas, that wasn’t a pantomime yet was still aimed at a family audience with some audience participation. It was also great to see a new, home grown British show that will hopefully be seen in the UK for years to come.
I rate it a 4.5/5 as a bit of Christmas fun.
Tickets cost from £18 to £46 (booking fees may apply).
Nativity! The Musical is at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield from 22-26 November 2017, for more information or to book tickets visit www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or call the box office on 0114 249 6000.
Lyceum Theatre, Norfolk St, Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S1 1DA | 0114 249 6000