The Festival Theatre is to be applauded for producing an alternative to panto or the big touring musical, and for giving it a local slant. The play by Tim Firth - writer of Calendar Girls - was initially seen on television and then adapted for the stage, where it had a highly successful run in Liverpool. The author has transplanted the play to Edinburgh complete with local references – yes, the tram works are in there.
A cast of adult actors play 7 year old children putting on their annual nativity play under the watchful eye of their hairy-lipped and unseen teacher - Miss Mochrie - and their parents. We see that relationships and negotiations in primary school can be just as complicated as in later life. Through the eyes of the children, we also glimpse the adults in their lives and as usual the kids speak with laser sharp directness and honesty. Later, we have a chance to judge just how accurate their assessments are.
Firth's script has great humour and insight, though director Joanna Read is not entirely successful in focussing the attention of the audience: some of the more physical moments and other funny lines are lost because of poor audibility. I imagine that these problems will be solved as the cast become more comfortable with a very wide stage in a very large theatre. The songs set to traditional carols drag on a bit and could be more amusing.
Some of the actors are more successful than others at playing children. Among them Ryan Fletcher as a Joseph more interested in the audience than the play, Sara Crowe as Gabriel, with her eyes firmly set, in an All About Eve way, on the leading role and especially Gail Watson as a plain speaking farmers daughter. Oh, and Steven McNicoll's Ass is a delight – somebody had to say it!
Judging from an extremely warm audience reaction, this undemanding yet entertaining play brings back many memories of either having taken part in, or been witness to, a school nativity. I imagine that the show will settle down for a successful Christmas run and hopefully we will see The Festival Theatre produce more work tailored to their core audience.
- Keith Paterson