Everything that could go wrong for just such a company as the one portrayed in Reading Rep's Christmas production does, of course, do just that. The obvious intention is that the slapstick comedy would provide a great deal of amusement. Unfortunately for The Nativity Play Goes Wrong, it didn't.
It all starts off so well. Power has supposedly cut out and so we are ushered into the theatre by the haggard cast and a crew member (Niall Ransome) who is running his car in order to power the generator. This promising start is unfortunately not sustained. Despite the valiant efforts of Christopher Currie as the "director", his talent cannot rescue a script that relies on the cheapest and most obvious laughs.
Currie's portrayal has a sincere innocence and a child-like eagerness that makes you desperate for the actual play to be successful. However, it's all barely funny, and it is definitely predictable. So, when the clothes are stripped from the Angel Gabriel for the third time, it becomes irritating and boring.
Rick Romero attempts to bring some gravitas to this script. However, there are only so many ways you can look dignified and solemn when on stage in a pair of blue y-fronts. The cast do try their best with a weak script. They are obviously a talented bunch; their rendition of "Silent Night" proves their ability to sing.
Yet this play comes over as the worst type of farce. The jokes are obvious, sometimes badly executed, and – although there are passages of light relief and genuinely funny moments – it is not enough to sustain the play and stop it from descending into school-production territory.
Children will enjoy the show. It is short enough to retain their attention, and has enough visual drama to keep them engaged. However, a play that had real potential to subvert the traditional Christmas tale into an amusing spoof sadly fell far short and instead has turned into a farce, in the worst possible sense.
The Nativity Play Goes Wrong runs at Reading College's Arts Centre until 4 January.