YORK Stage Musicals will bring an alternative festive offering to York this Christmas for the first time, staging The Flint Street Nativity at the John Cooper Studio @41Monkgate from December 12 to 22.
Tim Firth’s story was first performed as a television drama on ITV in 1999 with a cast featuring York actor Mark Addy, Frank Skinner, Neil Morrissey and Jane Horrocks.
Firth, the Frodsham-born writer of Neville’s Island, All Quiet On The Preston Front, Calendar Girls and the Madness musical Our House, then re-worked it for the Liverpool Playhouse stage premiere in 2006.
Firth’s show follows “Mizzis Horrocks’s” class of seven year olds as they prepare to perform their Nativity play at Flint Street Junior School for the proud mums and dads – and the occasional social worker.
Squabbles arise when Angel Gabriel wants to play Mary; the Star grumbles he isn’t a proper star like they have at NASA; Herod won’t stop waving to his parents and the subversive Innkeeper is determined to liven up the traditional script. Then the class stick insect escapes.
Leading the ensemble company as the ambitious Angel Gabriel will be blossoming York actress and comedienne Florence Poskitt, making her York Stage debut alongside Fiona Baistow in the coveted role of Mary. Look out too for YSM debutant Conor Wilkinson, playing both Herod and Joseph.
Here, Charles Hutchinson asks York Stage Musicals artistic director Nik Briggs to come forth on Firth by answering a Christmas sack-load of questions.
What made you choose this Tim Firth piece as your debut Christmas production?
“York is the ultimate Christmas destination, and many people ask us each year what we’re staging at Christmas but it hasn’t been something we’ve ventured into before. But then Jim Welsman [chairman at the time] asked us if we’d be interested in bringing a Christmas offering to 41 Monkgate, so I jumped at the chance and knew what show would be the perfect choice.
“I was looking for one that really would provide the city with an alternative theatrical offering. It needed to be a show that suited York Stage and the 41Monkgate venue. Flint Street was the perfect choice. It’s not saccharine; it’s fun, energetic and a tad off the wall.
“So, come join us as we alter your perspective on not only the art and politics of the humble Nativity, but the John Cooper Studio as a whole!”
What makes The Flint Street Nativity so humorous?
“This festive play really is one of the funniest observations I’ve come across based on the Christmas holidays. Everyone knows the traditions surrounding the institution of the school Nativity, tea towels tied to the head and tinsel-clad Angels everywhere, but Tim Firth has created a brilliant script, set in the build-up to the much-anticipated show filled with laughs and pathos in an oversized classroom where adults play the children in Mrs Horrocks’s class.”
What do you most enjoy about Tim Firth’s writing?
“The detail in the observation of the people he writes about is just brilliant; it really is all on the page. Like in Calendar Girls, you can relate to and recognise the characters. The seven year olds just come to life through the writing.
“I work with children of this age quite regularly and, as I read the script, I could see the children he was talking about and describing. It seems far-fetched to some, but it really isn’t! Then, the twist in the final scenes and his ability to inject just the right amount of pathos into a riotous comedy is what clinches it for me.”
What are the particular challenges of this piece for director and cast?
“The key to the whole show, for me, comes in getting the final part of the show just right, when – spoiler alert! – the actors who’ve been playing the children throughout then turn to play the respective parents and we see what’s made the children the way they are.
“It’s been fairly easy to work on the scenes with the brilliant actors where they’re playing around and having lots of fun playing the seven year olds, but actually getting that to tie in with the adults is where the magic is, so we started the rehearsals with the adult scenes and got to know them before we then worked on creating their children, as it’s the adults who nurture.”
What is Tim Firth’s Christmas message?
“The final line in the play is ‘I’m in a Nativity. Yeah, it’s great…really brings it home’, and I think that sums it up. In the fast-paced world we live in, the simplest, purest things can really make you slow down and take stock.”
What are your recollections of Nativity plays when you were nobbut a lad?
“Absolute terror! Every year, I’d come in from school and tell my mother that I’d been cast as a lead role in the show. Every year, she’d then have to go in and tell that year’s teacher that they should be prepared that come the day of the show, I’d just cry and refuse to go on as I suffered from crippling stage fright!
“They would assure her I’d been fine in class rehearsing and that I was doing brilliantly with it. Then every year she’d turn up and sit in the hall expectantly, to be hauled out by the teacher and informed I was having a meltdown. This happened every year until I was ten!”
Why are Nativity plays still important?
“Purity! It’s plain and simple to see in any Nativity the purity in the children and the performances they give. Sadly, it’s not a quality we always see in society and on stage nowadays. so let’s cling on to it in Nativity plays!
What have been your highlights of the York Stage Musicals year in 2019?
“2019 really has been a dream. We had the opportunity to produce a classic musical in The Sound Of Music; have worked on new writing with Twilight Robbery; created magic with our acclaimed youth production of Disney’s Aladdin, but I think the cherry on the top has to be Shrek The Musical at the Grand Opera House in September.
“The buzz around the production, from auditions through to the closing night, were just electric. The reviews and comments were just sensational. It really did raise our bar yet again and will really be a cherished production for us for a very long time.”
What’s coming next for York Stage Musicals?
“We have a bit of a bumper year planned already actually. An Eighties’ classic, a York premiere, a birthday celebration and what is set to be possibly the biggest and messiest youth show the city has ever seen!
“We start in February with Robert Haring’s Steel Magnolias at 41 Monkgate. We then head across town to the Grand Opera House with a brand-new production of Bugsy Malone in April.
“Then it’s a return to Monkgate in May to present the York premiere of Sondheim On Sondheim to mark Stephen Sondheim’s 90th birthday [on March 22 2020].
“We’re still firming up plans for our big autumn show, but things are looking exciting, and we’ll again end the year back at 41 Monkgate with another Christmas alternative!”
And finally, Nik, what would be your Christmas Day message to the nation?
“People of the United Kingdom, it seems that the country truly is in the… No, in all seriousness, we are in a transition, whether we want to be or not.
“In times of transition and change, we have to really look out for each other as not everyone will move at the same pace or be able to keep up. Stay genuine and be kind to those around us and trust that love will always win.
“Sadly nowadays, there are too many people in the world who like to over-promise and oversell themselves for personal gain. This can only lead to disappointment as we can see everywhere. “Know yourself, know your limits, don’t compare yourself to others and work hard to run your own race. Celebrate successes briefly, remain humble and learn from your mistakes.”
York Stage Musicals present The Flint Street Nativity, John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, York, December 12 to 22, 7.30pm except Sundays at 6pm. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorkstagemusicals.com or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office.
Director and designer: Nik Briggs
Assistant director: Jonny Holbek
Musical director: Jessica Douglas
Mary: Fiona Baistow
Wise Gold: Verity Carr
Star: Matthew Clarke
Wise Frankincense: Jack Hooper
Angel: Louise Leaf
Innkeeper: Paul Mason
Angel Gabriel: Florence Poskitt
Narrator: Andrew Roberts
Shepherd: Chloe Shipley
Herod/Joseph: Conor Wilkinson