first night

The Flint Street Nativity

Jonnie Grande is charmed by 3DTC's production of Tim Firth's festive comedy.

Mind your head on the paper chains. Stop to admire the pupils’ Great Crested Newts. Brush the tinsel off your jacket and take your seat to enjoy the pre-show entertainment: a wonderfully awkward junior recital.

 

3DTC’s self-proclaimed aim is to provide ‘an immersive theatrical experience’, and for much of the evening, they do just that. For three days only, the Assembly Rooms has been beautifully transformed into Flint Street Primary School – complete with a complementary candy-stick with the programme – and it is here that we are treated to Tim Firth’s The Flint Street Nativity.

 

Miss. Horrocks’ class of seven-year-olds are preparing for their Christmas play, accompanied by the paediatric power-politics that ensue. Angel Gabriel wants to play Mary. Mary is in love with Joseph. The innkeeper is in love with Mary. And the stick insect has escaped. This is a hilarious, heart-warming, and surprisingly heart-breaking tale, allowing us to relive our childhood for a couple of hours whilst forcing us to consider whether we ever really grow up.

 

The set is brilliantly conceived. Well-thought through and with great attention to detail, while never becoming over-bearing or ostentatious, it immediately takes us straight back to our own primary school classrooms. Creating in essence a big ‘white’ box, it is fully functional, well-used and gives the Assembly Rooms stage a more professional air than we are used to seeing. The costumes also sparkle with creativity and imagination; the angels’ wings glisten under the lights and the ass’ cardboard head brings a smile to the face every time it wanders onto the stage.

 

Playing a convincing seven-year-old is no mean feat, and by and large the girls do a much better job than the boys (even if they do smell). Elizabeth Rose O’Connor as the narrator is adorable. Her stilted delivery of the story is spot-on and as she stands in the spot-light pulling at her jumper, or sits on the floor with her eyes scrunched tightly shut struggling to learn her words, it is easy to forget that she is in fact a student.

 

Sinead Leahy as Mary is wonderfully earnest, her hand shooting straight up into the air at every available opportunity, and she drags the clueless Joseph around after her like a girl with a doll. Jemima Wilson causes havoc as her Star blusters across the stage, and her disgruntlement with a cardboard prop shedding glitter in her wake comes with just the right helping of attitude. The boys undeniably have a tougher job on their hands; standing at six feet tall and with a gruff voice, it is much harder for an audience to suspend their disbelief. The boys’ attempts are admirable, but we never forget that we are watching students playing children, when we really need to immerse ourselves in the world of Miss Horrocks’ classroom. That said, all the children, boys and girls, are more convincing than the portrayals of their parents in the final scene.

 

Once the play gets going, however, there is little to differentiate this from any other Assembly Room’s productions as an ‘immersive theatrical experience’. After the initial excitement of being surrounded by Christmas decorations has worn off, we are back in the theatre watching a play, albeit a very competent one. There are no screaming children running to their parents in the auditorium, and the audience is not invited to join in the Christmas carols, as I at one point thought we may be. I do not suggest this would improve the performance as a whole, I simply question how far directors Paul Moss and Joe Leather achieve the novel challenge they have set themselves, and whether they could have gone slightly further with the material they have.

 

My only other criticism lies perhaps more with the script. The first half is intensely amusing, and Tim Firth’s observation of kids at work is keenly acute. But the story fails to progress and many of the scenes appear to repeat themselves. The amusement of watching Joseph’s one-man version of ‘A Question of Sport’, complete with Ally McCoist’s accent and the TV audience’s applause, quickly wares thin, however engaging Dom Riley’s execution. The same is true of Angel Gabriel’s repeated demand that the second angel does not talk to one of the kings.

 

At times however, the production only compounds these faults, and more variety could have been added to these slight repetitions. The evil Innkeeper, for example, appears behind a door lit in green and accompanied by the same eerie music too many times for it to remain effective. Likewise, the performances of the various carols, from Hark the Herald to We Three Kings (although all with new, infantile lyrics), remain too static to fully carry their wit and novelty into the second half. A minor quibble also is that the diction of the singing is at times not clear enough for the words to be made out.

 

Whilst by no means a perfect production of a perfect play, this is a delightful, charming and unique evening of Christmas entertainment.

 

 

 

10 December 2010

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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