Review: Nativity! at the REP | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Review: Nativity! at the REP

Life&Style Editor Maddie Bourne spent a festive evening at the theatre with Nativity!

Reviews should probably begin chronologically. Pretty sure that is the rule of thumb when writing this kind of thing. Start from the beginning, discuss elements of the show, maybe offer constructive criticism, and then end on a general, rounded point. However, I have decided to discard the formula for this review - in fact, I am making it a little topsy-turvy, because I feel like my lasting thoughts on Nativity! utterly explain how I feel about this show. I left the REP on Wednesday evening sobbing.

I sobbed with complete happiness. Nativity! might just be the best thing I have ever seen at the theatre, and I have seen my fair share. If, come next Christmas,  this musical is not playing somewhere on the West End, I will eat a Santa hat. I would even (if I was not skint) put money on it. It is insanely, unimaginably, unapologetically good. 

It is insanely, unimaginably, unapologetically good

Very relevant to us in Birmingham and the surrounding area, Brum born and bred writer and director Debbie Isitt wrote Nativity! about a group of schoolkids in Coventry. Paul Maddens, a drama-school student come grumpy teacher, is struggling to get over a girlfriend that dumped him five years ago for the bright lights of Hollywood, and then finds himself directing a Christmas nativity. Throw into the mix a new, mischievous teaching assistant Mr. Poppy, as well as a very strong rivalry with enemy Gordon Shakespeare’s private school, and it is practically a recipe for a Christmas disaster. Not wanting to be outperformed, Maddens makes up a lie that his ex and her Hollywood crew are coming to watch and record the school's nativity, and it is then that everything goes hilariously awry.

Already a major film hit, with two sequels to its name, it is no secret that Nativity! is a good old fun story, so it comes as no surprise that I enjoyed the stage version. However, what made  the evening perfect were the kids in the performance, bringing amazing talent.

Still of a Primary School age, these children danced, sung and acted with such vivacity, energy and professionalism that they stole the show. They made us laugh, cry and just marvel in how incredible they are. The most adorable thing about the performance was that there was one moment during the show, when the children are re-enacting the nativity, where something went wrong – and how the kids handled it was genius. One of the children’s fake beards fell off, so she hastily attempted to put it back on, failed to and instead hilariously stepped out of character, and chucked it on the ground in mock fury. Her other child co-star then proceeded to slide said fake beard under his foot so that none of the audience could be distracted by it for the rest of the scene. For children as young as them to acknowledge that something had gone wrong and to then bring something so authentically clever as an ad-lib to cover up the blip made the audience applaud like crazy. Mr. Poppy (played by Simon Lipkin) was left lost for words, laughing at the genius of his fellow actors who are less than half his age. The wonderful thing about Nativity! is that it does not pretend to be overly polished, nor does it pretend to be an incredibly dramatic work of art: it wants to represent real young people, real life problems and to pull on the heartstrings of all our mixed-up human emotions. It is just perfect.

They bring such humour, wit and purely joyous fun to life onstage

The adult actors, labelled as ‘big kids’ in the shows programme, have just as much energy as the children. They bring such humour, wit and purely joyous fun to life onstage. I think it is a wonderful reminder for all of us adults to keep the inner child at heart. We can imagine these actors as real people; real lives of those living on your street. Nativity! shows life as we all want it. Happy, fun, carefree and gleeful.

As the last song was sung, the audience gave a standing ovation far before the curtain call. We wanted to be immersed in the show forever; we wanted to let these talented kids know what joy they had brought to us on a dull Wednesday evening. It feels to me as if Debbie Isitt always intended to place Nativity! on the stage. It comes to life so much better there: it simply makes sense. The film just does not quite capture the complete happiness of watching the musical live. As we left the auditorium, myself and my friend got chatting to a woman whose son is in the production. The kids are now off on a tour around the country, which finishes in London just before Christmas time. These kids are living in the world that Debbie Isitt dreamt up in Coventry. Go and watch the show- you will want to live it too.

English & Creative Writing student | Writer for Redbrick & The Tab | Host of The Request Show at BurnFM | Absolutely awful at writing remotely interesting bios (@maddiemae_xo)


1st November 2017 at 9:00 am

Last Updated

31st October 2017 at 9:07 pm

Images from

Richard Davenport