The Flint Street Nativity, York Stage Musicals, John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, York, until Sunday. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorkstagemusicals.com.
THIS is the second time York Stage Musicals have gone back to school to stage Tim Firth’s riotous Christmas comedy.
First seen on television with York actor Mark Addy in a donkey head, and then adapted for the stage at the Liverpool Playhouse in 2006, The Flint Street Nativity that re-creates the trepidatious highlight of the primary-school Christmas calendar, the Nativity play.
“There’s no treachery assassination, double-dealing, deceit, coercion or blackmail that you encounter later in life that you will not have been prepared for in the classroom,” says teacher’s son Firth, who brings to school the clash between teamwork and individual desires that flavoured his pent-up comedy in Neville’s Island, Preston Front and Calendar Girls.
Robert Readman was YSM’s equivalent of “Mizzis Horrocks”, the play’s schoolteacher, for the York company’s first go at Firth’s Nativity play in November 2011. Now Nik Briggs makes an ass of himself…in a good way, not only directing but also playing the Addy role of Ass, having starred opposite a Donkey as Shrek in YSM’s Shrek The Musical at the Grand Opera House in September, by the way.
Briggs has designed the classroom stage and costumes too. “Nik has been very busy this term and shows a real aptitude for theatre,” his school report would say.
Mizzis Horrocks is often heard, but not seen, in Firth’s play, as she strives to guide her class of seven years olds through their Nativity play at Flint Street Junior School, being reduced to sounds, rather than words, that nevertheless capture her increasing exasperation at their antics.
Firth’s salient powers of observation are as sharp as ever as the children pretty much do their own thing, much like Mary’s donkey, a holiday relic that swears in Spanish.
Andrew Roberts’s jumper sleeve-picking, stoical Narrator is resolute that the show must go on, flattening everything before him, voice and all, but he must contend with petty squabbles, rampant egos and the disappearance of Peter Crouch, the school stick insect.
Your reviewer called on York directors to give Florence Poskitt a lead role next year after seeing her Ethel Cratchit in Pick Me Up Theatre’s Scrooge The Musical last month. Glory be, that rallying call has been answered early in the form of her seemingly ruthless little madam playing the Angel Gabriel, so determined to gazump Mary’s role. Anything but angelic, Poskitt nevertheless reveals the girl’s inner vulnerability behind the hard-nosed, playground bully front.
Her usurping classroom troublemaker is but one comic joy, topped off with her spiralling spat with Fiona Baistow’s class swat Jenny B as they vie for the prized role of Mary.
Two roles require constant headgear: Briggs as the loveable Irish lad who grows so attached to his Ass’s cardboard head that he will not remove it, and Matthew Clarke as the NASDA-fixated dreamer designated the part of the Star of Bethlehem in a performance full of pathos and frustration as much as wonder.
Conor Wilkinson makes a delightful YSM debut as the boy assigned to play both King Herod and Joseph, but obsessed with re-enacting the Ally McCoist era on A Question Of Sport and smiling distractedly at his parents in the audience.
Jack Hooper taps into the sadness, desperation and pain in the new boy playing Wise Frankincense, struggling with his lisp as he shies away from saying “Jesus”.
Verity Carr’s Wise Gold, Louise Leaf’s Angel and especially Chloe Shipley, as the blunt , no-nonsense farm girl bringing home truths to the role of a Shepherd, contribute plenty to the fractious fun too.
Fun, meanwhile, is not the word the rest of the class would choose to describe the oddball loner (Paul Mason), a pub landlord’s son with a last orders’ threat about him, whose scary Innkeeper keeps stealing scenes.
Firth complements the delicious mayhem, social comment and joy of watching adults play children with two masterstrokes. Firstly, to Jessica Douglas’s strident school-piano accompaniment, each child sings a familiar Carol with satirical new lyrics that tell the truth about their parents, from a child’s frank, hurt or frustrated perspective.
Secondly, the YSM actors re-emerge for the finale as those parents, whose behaviour so explains why the children are how they are. Darkness descends at the finale, Firth fuelling the nature-versus-nurture debate, the real-life story trampling over the Nativity play.
Chances are you won’t see a funnier Nativity play this term.
York Stage Musicals present The Flint Street Nativity, John Cooper Studio @41 Monkgate, York, until December 22, 7.30pm except Sunday at 6pm. Box office: 01904 623568, at yorkstagemusicals.com or in person from the York Theatre Royal box office.