Katherine MacAlister reviews Nativity! The Musical

I’d seen the film with my children, albeit reluctantly, and gagged on the over-sugar coated Hollywood pill.

The schmaltzy screen version of St Bernadette School’s nativity seemed outrageously unlikely to my cynical mind. So I wasn’t expecting to enjoy my evening at the New Theatre, where the stage version is playing out all week.

When the joyous musical unfolded in all its hilarious, touching and realistic nuances, I was utterly entranced.

Set around the guise of childhood sweethearts Mr Maddens (Scott Garnham) and Jennifer Lore (Ashleigh Gray) who fall in love, move in together and follow their dreams, Ashleigh is then called away to Hollywood, and Mr Madden continues teaching at a local primary school.

But when Jennifer doesn’t return, his heart breaks, and he gives up on life, and his pupils, turning into a bitter, disconsolate figure.

Cue Mr Poppy (Simon Lipkin), his new teaching assistant, who has the energy of a new puppy, the mentality of Beavis and Butt-Head, and the enthusiasm of Dick and Dom, brought in to help stage the school nativity, and in-so-doing rescue St Bernadette’s from special measures.

With bitter rivalry emanating from local private school Oakmoor, and an unhelpful boast from Mr Madden that a Hollywood producer (Jake Wood) would be coming to see the show, plus the threat of another -2 review from acerbic local theatre reviewer Patrick Burns (Jamie Chapman) and the pressure is on.

Throw in some great ensemble numbers, Mr Poppy’s continuous Carry On escapades, the sheer glee radiating from the two teams of rival school children, who brought Joyce Grenfell’s George Don’t Do That to mind, and the whole audience was entirely on board for the inevitable ending.

The idea that children can’t hold their own was entirely disproved here, meaning that Nativity! The Musical was joyous from beginning to end, as the audience gave it a unanimous and well deserved standing ovation.

There couldn’t be a more appropriately festive show to watch, which worked so much better on stage with its real life limitations. 5/5

On until Saturday. Go to atgtickets.com/oxford or 0844 8713020