“Who put Jesus in with the iguana?”
Much more fun than traditional takes on the Nativity is Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity (which I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing until now) which is utterly charming and heart-warmingly British in the best possible way. Firth’s conceit is to have adults playing children, hardly the most original of ideas, but as the pupils of this infant class put on a chaotic performance of the Christmas story complete with onstage squabbles and backstage power struggles, we see how the turbulence of their home lives is played out in their interactions with their schoolmates.
It is beautifully done, and sensitively played throughout. It never stops being funny – particularly as Dervla Kirwan’s determined Jaye plots and schemes to usurp Josie Lawrence’s Debbie Bennett as Mary – as playground rituals dominate proceedings. There’s the endless procession of ever-changing best friends, the relentless goading of the one who always says “dares ya” to the more susceptible kids, the terror of the boy with the stammer, the terrifying rough kid, the bossy know-it-all, the teacher whose patience wears ever thinner with each crisis.
John Thomson’s mean kid innkeeper and Jane Horrocks’ cocksure shepherd are great, and Frank Skinner also offers up a surprisingly effective performance as a soccer-obsessed Herod, much less annoying than I ever thought he would be. Neil Morrissey’s stammering King is highly affecting as he builds up the courage to deliver his lines but the heart of the play lies in Stephen Tompkinson’s narrator, desperate for both his divorced parents to attend to witness his performance learnt entirely off by heart, but crushed by the turn of events.
The final salvo as the actors briefly play the parents of the kids they’ve just been portraying offers a salutary ending note which works wonderfully. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend trying to see this before Christmas rather than any re-enactment of the Nativity story itself.