first night

The Flint Street Nativity

Sophie Wright is feeling the Christmas spirit with Green Door's production of 'The Flint Street Nativity'.

Ladies and gentlemen, Durham has fully and firmly entered the Christmas spirit in all its inherently cheesy and festive goodness, and I am loving it. It is the second day of December, and I am so happy to report that Green Door Theatre Company’s The Flint Street Nativity satisfied a deep craving to start the holiday season in style. Despite initial reservations (that admittedly partially stemmed from attempting to locate the venue of St. Chad’s Chapel), the cast and crew of the show have warmed the cockles of my heart.

The Flint Street Nativity tells the tale of a primary school nativity show, and the trials and tribulations of the seven year olds that participate. Showcasing domineering girls butting heads, a filthy-mouthed innkeeper, and a wannabe astronaut attempting to locate the class stick insect, the play manages to scope a variety of colourful personalities in a highly entertaining way. The play isn’t all fun and games, though. While the children hilariously parrot their parents, the undertones of disrupted childhoods lurk throughout the script. What is absolutely one of the most commendable aspects of the show is the way that every single person on stage inhabits the mannerisms and sensibilities of children, while remaining recognisably independent characters. It could have been so very easy for each actor to utilise the same body language and quirks, but they didn’t, and this allowed for a fuller appreciation of the children’s diversity to be realised by the audience. Kudos to the director, Kimran Rana, for fostering such believable children.

The venue was a stroke of genius. The nativity tradition takes advantage of a space like St. Chad’s Chapel, and I admittedly felt like a parent watching a school production. The set and the costumes were ingenious. Fairy lights leading up to the door, Christmas-jumper-clad producers handing me my Christmas card ticket, paper chains and snowflakes everywhere, and a stage that resembled the inside of a primary school classroom—impeccable detail and commitment to the festive theme were everywhere I looked. The costumes themselves evoked the spirit of parents on a budget without looking thoughtless; my favourite was the papier-mâché donkey’s head. It was fun and inviting, and suitably ridiculous to watch grown men and women trip over capes and manoeuvre giant tin-foil stars. My compliments to producers Tom Bralower and Hannah Smith, as well as costume manager Teresa Cherubini.

With a fairly sizable cast, it is pleasing to report that there were no memorably weak performances. One personal standout was the abrasive relationship between Annabel Dickson’s Gabriel and Stacey Cockram’s Mary. Cockram consistently managed to remind us that she was a stickler for rules and determined to show her inherent worthiness, being both endearing and insufferable. As a counterpoint, Dickson was petty but increasingly understandable, controlling her group of minions with a flick of her pigtail. Together, they butted heads and the conclusion in the battle for the part of Mary made me laugh out loud. The actors successfully recreated the kind of naive humour only children can imbue. The first laugh of the night has to go to Jonathan Vautrey’s Herod/Joseph reenacting A Question of Sport with eerie accuracy; the loudest to the scene with Sebastian Higgins and Mary Lord shouting ‘willy’ in the playground.

A possible downside was the pacing of certain scenes. In particular, the final scene where the actors doubled up as their child’s parental figure lost its childish charm and humour, and I personally felt that jokes fell slightly flatter than in previous scenes. Nonetheless, as the director mentioned in the programme, doubling up of roles is always a difficult undertaking, and I appreciate the calibre of the performances. I did also miss Higgins’ lisp in his first scene which was eaten up in a conversation with Eleri Crossland, and I was subsequently confused until it was explicitly mentioned. There were also lulls in conversation when children were waiting for props to be moved or entrances to be completed, which could have been down to timing in dialogue. However, the pace was always picked up in another conversation. The comic timing of Richard Penney in particular was continuously wonderful, and I felt strangely protective of the Star by the end of the show.

Unfortunately, the tech was perhaps the weakest element of the production. I understand that the red wash, which appeared to indicate the teacher’s reprimands, served a dramatic purpose, but I felt that its timing and its occasional suddenness broke the flow of the play in a potentially jarring manner. The sound, too, was also a tad awkward. The logistics of having the cast sing backstage to a piano that played from behind the audience resulted in timing being off, but it was always remedied admirably by the pianist or the singing actor. This is possibly symptomatic of a college-based play, but I believe that the production team successfully resolved any occurring issues, and the charming set reminded me that a real nativity would also encounter similar problems.

To be perfectly truthful, I cheerfully ignored the niggles in favour of the overwhelming feel of Christmas spirit exuding from the entire play. With a fantastically festive set, a very British exposure of the imperfect family, and a constantly entertaining cast, The Flint Street Nativity is the perfect show to hail in the holidays. I only wish that I had worn a Christmas jumper for the occasion. 

2 December 2016

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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