Flint Street Nativity, Motcombe Community Players, Motcombe Memorial Hall

0020396_flint_street_nativitythe_300TIM Firth turned his 1999 celebrity-ridden ITV comedy about a Nativity into a stage play in 2006. After writing the television film he also turned the story of the Yorkshire WI ladies into the film Calendar Girls, and two years after adapting Flint Street for stage he did the same with Calendar Girls. The Girls Musical, a full musical of the tale, co-written with Gary Barlow, is currently playing to packed houses in Leeds before touring the country.

Rosie King, Motcombe’s resident director, was one of almost 400 people to direct the time-limited amateur version of Calendar Girls at Shaftesbury in 2013, and after success with pantomime, musicals such as Joseph and Godspell, and the totally-spiffing Daisy Pulls it Off last year, she knew she had enough talent in the area to take on the incredibly difficult roles of the children playing parts in their school’s nativity play, as well as playing their respective parents or other relations in a final, poignant and moving, scene.

Her cast did her proud, each with a rounded and developed character, both as a youngster and as the parent, so that stories and plot built through the play, ready for the well-written pay-off in the final scene. Some of these stories were obvious, such as John Laing’s Marcus, playing the Star, full of scientific facts and figures, whose Uncle Ted works for NASA, and yet when we meet the adult he is uncle by name only, having been a close friend of Marcus’s mother. Some were more subtle, particularly that of narrator Tina, played to perfection by Anthea Smith, full of childlike mannerisms, yet gradually letting us know that her mother only sees her when she finishes school, as she no longer lives at home. As the mother, having watched the play through a window in case of bumping into Tina’s father, her portrayal was so honest that I was almost in tears, partly as it had been preceded by a beautiful unaccompanied piece of singing from Brenda White as the parent of Debbie, finally breaking down after seeming the most organised and ideal parent.

Music is a key part of this play, with alternative words to well-known carols allowing the kids to tell us how they really feel and give away a little more of the truth behind their characters. All of these were sung and staged well. The funniest was from the donkey, played with excellent timing by Alan Francis, relishing all the rude words he was allowed to say. The most moving was a trio with the aforementioned narrator, Cherry Alderman as the second Angel and Jennifer Trenchard as a Wise Man, which was heart-breaking in it’s honesty.

Flint Street castThere was great comedy, especially from Wendy Ibbotson as a shepherd with a sheep made out of a pillow, John Taylor as Joseph and Herod, with a wig not unlike Donald Trump’s hair, Kay Francis as Gabriel, as she tried to take over the role of Mary, and Graham Dunlop as a grumpy innkeeper who seemed to spend most of his time in a cupboard.  Deeper moments came from Jess Sims as the new girl with a speech anomaly, as her mother called it, having to try and say frankincense but finally blurting our myrrh instead, Brenda as Debbie getting upset about how the others are treating her, and from children who became upset when others stopped talking to them, as only children can.

The cast made the most of every opportunity, not falling into the trap of overdoing it or taking things too far, so that shepherd Wendy explained childbirth very seriously, based on the observation of a cow, explained that the “playcentre” came out last, followed by a loud moo, and so when Mary gave birth, she took this advice, and duly mooed. This could have been overdone, but Rosie has a keen eye as director and is good at keeping things at the right level.

The set, by Chris Hollis, was great, especially the huge “adult” chair at the front, and colourful walls, costumes, by Sarah Upshall all worked well, mainly supposedly made by parents, and the music was well played Amber Harley-Watts.  This play only works well if the contrast between the comedy and slapstick of the children is clearly contrasted with their true stories, and finally with the poignant adults at the end, and Rosie and her team succeeded on every level. It’s on again this evening, at Shaftesbury, but look out for it in future, as it is a great night out.


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