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Birmingham Repertory Theatre

My first description of Nativity! The Musical, if I had to give a fifteen second elevator pitch, would be to say this: Monty Python meets St Trinian’s. This show is one you will either love or hate. If you are looking for serious drama, forget it. If you have a taste for silly British gently satirical humour, you will love it. If you have a taste for vaudeville/music hall riffs, you will also love it. If you like stand up comics, you will adore the routines and speedy delivery of Simon Lipkin as an energetic, manic, touching Mr Poppy. You will also love his pairing with Scott Garnham as the perfect foil. And if you love Pantomime, this can be, in a generalised sort of way, a Pantomime for you.

The villain, Andy Brady’s hissable Mr Shakespeare, even gets booed. If ever there was a case for a willing suspension of disbelief, this is it. The story is completely nonsensical and preposterous, so, as Henry James, said, you will have to accept “the given”. If you are looking for My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music or even Jesus Christ, Superstar, this is not going to be it. If you are looking for an extended Monty Python approach set in a primary school that is also a little squishy at its marshmallow heart, you will love this. The children in the show – and there are plenty of them – are so full of energy and enjoyment that it is almost impossible not to suspend all critical faculties and simply go with the very glitzy, raw flow.

In Oxford, Jake Wood of East Enders is playing The Hollywood Producer and his first appearance on stage naturally brought the show to a full stop for a lot of applause and hooting and hollering. This is an interactive musical too! It is a blissfully crass evening of show biz pizzazz. It is also exceptionally well done and professional to the core. I have nothing but praise of Debbie Isitt, the writer and director, for composer Nicky Ager and Debbie Isitt, and for Andrew Wright’s dazzlingly cheerful choreography. Everything is perfectly calculated for the enjoyment value it will bring. It is one of the most engaging shows touring the country. I also want to praise Ashleigh Gray as Jennifer and Jemma Churchill as Mrs Bevan. But especially, I must praise the children and the terrific sense everyone on that stage gives of a well-oiled, totally over-rehearsed ensemble that nonetheless seems spontaneous at every moment. You cannot be that spontaneous in and not be slickly rehearsed! And when things went a mite wrong at one point, Simon Lipkin and Scott Garnham ad libbed their way out of it with total aplomb. This is the kind of show that Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney might have put on in their barn in the 1930s. It is a real MGM style family show! As Sam Goldwyn said, “Meaning? If I want to send a message, I send a telegram!” The only message in this one is that it is great fun.

  • Musical
  • Written and directed by Debbie Isitt
  • Produced by Jamie Wilson, Ramin Sabi, Entertainment One, and Belgrade Theatre Coventry with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre
  • Choreography by Andrew Wright
  • Composed by Nicky Ager and Debbie Isitt
  • Cast includes: Simon Lipkin, Scott Garnham, Ashleigh Gray, Jemma Churchill, Andy Brady, Jamie Chapman
  • Birmingham Repertory Theatre

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Canadian-born Mel Cooper first came to the UK to study English Literature at Oxford University and stayed. He was captivated by the culture and history of Britain, which he found to be a welcoming and tolerant country. After working in highly illustrated, non-fiction publishing for over a decade, he founded and edited the magazine Opera Now. Since then he has worked as a consultant to the Japanese broadcaster NHK, a broadcaster on British Satellite Broadcasting, a maker of audio shows and arts critic for several airlines, and as one of the team that started Britain’s first commercial classical music radio station, Classic FM, on which he was both a classical music DJ and creator and presenter of shows like Classic America and Authentic Performance. Throughout this period, he also lectured in music and literature in London and Oxford and published short stories in Canada. After working with the Genesis Foundation on helping to fund arts projects, he continues to write, review and lecture on music and literature. His first novel has just been published as an e-book. The title is City of Dreams. It is the first volume of a projected saga called The Dream Bearers. You can find the Kindle version of the book on Amazon.

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