dropped baby Jesus, forgotten lines, and actors in tears but its
still the only play that I'd PAY to see
FROM THE MAIL'S EXACTING CRITIC, A RARE
PASS some cotton wool for your ears,
comrades. While you're at it, a box of tissues might come in handy, too,
and /or a hip flack. The time has nearly come for that annual ordeal of
creaky warbles and blatant heart-tugging: the school Nativity play.
Politically correct councils hate them
for fear of upsetting non-Christian minorities. Left-wing social
engineers and militant secularists howl that their religious message is
' inappropriate' .BUT in our part of England, at least, they are
YES, it's tinsel and manger TIME
This year, in our family, we are
limbering up to play a sheep. In previous Decembers, our various
children have been cast as a snowflake, an angel, a shepherd and one of
the 'wise' men (so wise he nearly forgot his gift and kept sniffing on
stage - he had a runny right nostril at the time.)
We also bagged the Virgin Mary once.
The BIG ONE! Our middle child, played her with terrific poise and
serenity - until she dropped the infant Jesus.
A loud 'oops' went up from one of the
other children and she herself aged six, reacted with a momentary
'cripes' expression followed by some Ted Heath shoulder-heaving as
she slowly succumbed to the giggles.
Happily the baby, a plastic doll, was
not one of those battery-equipped jobs which burst into drops of tears
and Californian-accented wails when turned upside down.
Busy fathers know that the Nativity
play is a three line Whip. I never go to parent -teacher evenings, have
often whenever possible) missed class poetry recitals, and have been
known to bunk off the odd football or hockey match in which my frozen
children have been playing far out on the distant wing.
the bravest or most deadbeat Dad dares miss the
Like Teletubby videos, half-sucked
sweets and stopping on a rain swept motorway to give your desperate
toddler a piddle, the school Nativity play is as unavoidable rite of
There are certain conventions.
You may find, for instance, that the play is being stated
in an echoey assembly hall which smells of chalk dust even though chalk
has long disappeared from most schools. If it does not smell of chalk
dust it will smell of boiled mince. Or even worse, feet.
You may find that the piano is played
by a music mistress with horn-rimmed spectacles and an air of only
faintly suppressed exasperation.
Who can Blame her?
Those ruddy camels miss their entrance
cue every time.
The piano will be a semi-tone or two
out of key. The fault is never enough to necessitate a remedial visit
from the piano tuner, but it is just enough to bring on a twitch of
neuralgia below your temples.
Other little foibles?
One of Joseph's front teeth may have
fallen out the night before, giving him a sort of fruitbat lisp. If by
some fluke this had not happened, Joseph will have accidentally tucked
his Middle Eastern djellaba into his Spiderman underpants.
Many years ago I recall seeing Joseph
who insisted on wearing dark glasses. He looked like a Saudi arms
When the friendly hotel keeper is asked
if he has a room at the inn, brace yourself. It is entirely possible he
will forget his line, panic and say 'er, OK, yes!, thus endangering the
entire edifice of the narrative, not to mention two millennia of
The child playing the back of the
donkey, meanwhile, may walk in a different direction to the child
playing the front of the donkey, causing one or both ends of this beast
of burden to topple off the state.
How to make an ass of yourself in one
After several years in the parenting
business, I have yet to encounter a Nativity play in which at least one
dear heart does not burst into tears and walk off the stage to find his
or her mummy. And , Oh, the singing. Never go to a Nativity play
with a mild toothache. If you do, you will leave the show with
full-blown dental agony.
This year, as I say, we are sheep, our
three-year old, came home and announced with great solemnity that she
had been cast as a 'heap'. She is not very good at pronouncing the
letter S, you see.
It could have been worse.
Tim Lowe, headmaster of one of our
nearby schools, Hereford Cathedral Junior, yesterday disclosed that one
of his five-year olds, had told his mother he was going to be 'a piece
of paper' It turned out he had in fact been cast as a page.
As a West End theatre critic, I have to
say that children's Nativity plays are by no means the worst productions
I get to see.
In some ways, for sheer emotive
relentlessness, if not for their unspoken comedy and -
when I'm not being Scrooge -
their diabetes-inducing sweetness, they
are without a peer.
They are also an increasing rare
example of theatrical entertainment at which you can be sure no actor
will swear or strip down to the buff, or at which the director will not
essay some hectoring 'message' about Anglo-American alliance,
globalization, or the evils of the Thatcher years.
In recent times, the Nativity play has
come under attack from 'correct-thinking' authorities. In 2004, it was
reported that only a third of London schools were staging Nativity
Was it because the staff room had gone
on strike at the prospect of having to corral the children through
all those maddening rehearsals (and here we should, by the way ,salute
the stoicism and astonishing patience of the primary school teachers who
produce the shows)?
The reason two thirds of London schools
were not doing a Nativity play was,
YOU GUESSED IT
-they were scared of causing offence to
The child molestation neurotics have
also caused problems. Any father who nowadays sits in the front row of a
Nativity play and whips out a video camera can reasonably expect a
midnight knock on his door from the Vice Squad.
'Been takin' some pictures have we
For all their little drawbacks, and
despite the fact that we all know the plot. Nativity plays are an
important and joyous assertion of our CULTURE.
By that I do not only mean our
Christian culture, but also our culture of communal amateur dramatics,
of children getting an early chance to dress up in some exotic costume
and perform their hearts out.
Mrs. Letts has, by the way, spent the
past fortnight sewing gold braid to angel wings.
YES. Nativity plays are good for
Not every child can be like Shirley
or, to take a more recent example,
seven-year old Adrianna Bertola, the little girl who wowed us critics at
the London |Palladium last month when she played Greti von Trapp in the
SOUND OF MUSIC
In a world increasingly short of
wide-eyed wonder, however, every boy and girl should be able one way or
another, to get to play a snowflake, or a shepherd, or even a sheep.
- just watch their faces when they are
on stage. Insert that cotton wool in your ears and take a few discreet
slugs of Jonnie Walker, by all means.
BUT YOU HAVE TO ADMIT
[Font altered -bolding & underlining used-comments
Daily Mail's Theatre Critic
A MERRY AND HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO