Theatre review: Nativity! The Musical
Don't wait for panto - if you're looking for a feelgood show that all the family can enjoy, head to Milton Keynes Theatre this week to see Nativity! The Musical.
It's certainly the most fun I've had at the theatre for many a year, and my companion was laughing so hard he cried.
The plot follows schoolteacher Mr Maddens, played by Scott Garnham, seen at MK last year in the touring production of Billy Elliot The Musical, who is tasked with putting on a Nativity production at his under-performing Coventry primary school, St Bernadette's.
He is assisted by wacky new teaching assistant Mr Poppy, played with perfect comic timing by Simon Lipkin.
Meanwhile, posh Oakmoor School decides to stage a rival production of Herod The Musical, under the tutelage of Mr Maddens' rival, Mr Shakespeare.
In the heat of the moment, Mr Maddens rashly boasts to his former friend Mr Shakespeare that a Hollywood producer is coming to see his show to turn it into a film.
This 'fake news' quickly leaks out, and soon everyone at the school and in the whole of Coventry believes that "Hollywood are coming" to see their show.
Mr Maddens is feted as a hero and the city mayor even arranges for the eagerly awaited production to take place in the ruins of Coventry's old cathedral.
How can Mr Maddens possibly turn the situation round, and get a movie star production from his ragbag collection of pupils?
With the help of the unfailingly cheery, resourceful and downright hyperactive Mr Poppy, of course, and a lavish sprinkling of Christmas sparkle...
This is a show to make you smile as well as laugh. The age guidance is 5+ and there was laughter from all ages, and lots of i, in the audience at Wednesday's first night.
The growing bond between Mr Maddens and Mr Poppy was charmingly portrayed, as they moved from forced co-operation to friendship.
But the stars of the show are undoubtedly the children, with the St Bernadette's pupils played by professional child actors and the Oakmoor pupils by 15 local children from the local area recruited at auditions in June.
They were utterly delightful - performing their roles with loud and gleeful gusto and not a hint of tweeness.
The final, spectacular show set amid the cathedral ruins, with the Angel Gabriel descending by zipwire from the old cathedral spire, was as about as joyful and life-affirming as anything I've ever seen.
The remaining performances of Nativity! The Musical at MK Theatre are at 7pm tonight, Friday; 2pm and 5pm tomorrow, Saturday; and 1pm and 5pm on Sunday. Catch it if you can.
For ticket availability, see atgtickets.com/MiltonKeynes or call 0844 871 7652.