Nativity! The Musical: Christmas officially comes to Canterbury

By Morgan Rodway-Wing

Nativity! The Musical has been touring the country in recent weeks and it finally came to The Marlowe Theatre, well and truly starting the countdown to Christmas.

The show follows the story of a teacher who is tasked with putting on a school nativity, despite disliking Christmas after losing the love of his life to the bright lights of Hollywood. He is joined by a teaching assistant, Mr Poppy, who acts like a child himself, and the pair struggle through the trials and tribulations of working with children to put on the show of a lifetime in front of a Hollywood producer (hopefully). There are many twists and turns throughout the show, with many moments of doubt as to whether the nativity will even happen.

The sheer brilliance of the show was astounding, with the performance managing to simultaneously delight children and adults. While the audience was primarily made up of school children, there were still plenty of families who enjoyed the Christmas show too. A large part of this came down to the hilarious jokes and references to contemporary culture made throughout the show. There were Fortnite dances and references to The Lion King for children and more topical jokes about Brexit and sexual innuendos for adults. Admittedly, I was expecting the show to be more pantomime than West End, especially after hearing some of these jokes. However, I could not have been more wrong! Although Mr Poppy interacted with the audience a lot and encouraged participation with the boo-ing of Mr Shakespeare, there was a real elegance and finesse to the show, particularly in the scenes after the interval.

This elegance largely came from the beautiful voice of Ashleigh Gray, who played Jennifer Lore. She commanded the stage as though it was her own and embodied her character to the fullest. The duets ‘Wrapped in a Rainbow’ and ‘Suddenly’ were impeccable and left a lasting impression on the audience, giving myself and many others goosebumps. Gray was the perfect Jennifer Lore and my only wish was that she had even more opportunities to sing so that we could hear more of her enchanting voice.

Nativity! The Musical’s perfect casting was continued with Scott Paige’s performance as Mr Poppy. There are not enough hyperbolic adjectives to describe Paige’s ability to completely embody the character of Mr Poppy. If characters were created with people in mind, Mr Poppy was most certainly made for Paige! Hilarity ensued when Mr Poppy was let loose in St Bernadette’s and he soon became one of the most relatable characters in the whole show. There was an excitement in Paige’s eyes as he performed and his absolute enthrallment with theatre was evident when I met him after the show.

Scott Paige (far left) takes a selfie with our writer (far right) and her friends.

Despite only having a short amount of time before needing to be back in the theatre, Paige still made sure he had time to meet people. His question to us about whether we enjoyed the show or not was striking to me because it made it clear to see just how much he cared about his role and the audience. My meeting with Paige left me suspecting that his charming, hilariously witty and kind portrayal of Mr Poppy was really just an extension of his own wonderful personality!

While Gray and Paige were stand out performers, the star of the night was Pepper who absolutely stole the show! Pepper played Cracker the Dog and I can honestly say I nearly jumped out of my seat in excitement when she made her first appearance! She was cute, cuddly and created a homely atmosphere! I have to congratulate Nativity! The Musical because it would have been easy for them to feature Cracker once and then not reference her again. However, her continuous appearance really drummed in the idea to the audience that a dog is not just for Christmas, but a part of the family forever!

A special mention also goes to all the children who performed in the show. They were composed, professional and absolutely hilarious. I cannot imagine performing to an entire audience of people at only 10 years old, yet these actors and actresses did so with utmost confidence and energy. It was inspiring to see such young actors and actresses giving the adults a run for their money and I would be inclined to say that Alexander Hogg is a name to watch out for in the future! His performance was outstanding and left the audience in fits of giggles.

Nativity! The Musical had one of the most perfect, impressive and realistic casts in any musical that I have seen recently, from the ensemble to the children! It is for this reason that I would urge anyone who wants a bit of Christmas sparkle in their lives to book tickets for the remaining shows (after the tour there will be performances in London until 29th December 2019).

They say never work with children or animals, yet Nativity! The Musical did both and managed to put on a performance that will be remembered as a Christmas classic for years to come!

Images courtesy of the Marlowe Theatre

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