‘Things are Really Cool at St Bernadette’s’ – Nativity! UK Tour Review

It’s been ten years since the first Nativity! Film was released and four movies later, the children of St Bernadette’s are as much as part of Christmas as Jingle Bells and Christmas Dinner. I think that most people have at least seen the first film, so will be familiar with the story of Christmas Grinch Mr Maddens, his class of underdog kids and the hilarious Mr Poppy. For the last three years, this story has been taking to the stage up and down the country in a musical adaptation that has been catching the imagination of kids and adults alike, whilst spreading Christmas cheer in the best possibly way.

Nativity the musical is now a staple of the festive season, back by popular demand year after year and it’s not hard to see why. Catchy fun songs, excellent casts, a brilliant story, a lot of sparkle, a lot of shine, adorable children, a genius form of audience interaction and a ridiculously cute dog, what’s not to love? This is a show that provides a tonic, an escape from the troubles of the real world, a show that the whole family can enjoy together. And that is something that the real world needs right now.

You can not fault the cast of this production, led brilliantly by Scott Garnham as Mr Maddens and Scott Paige as Mr Poppy. Garnham brings the grumpy Christmas hating character of Mr Maddens to life, illustrating the panic when his little white lie gets out of control and the warm heart that lies below his icy exterior. You see this character as the story progresses, and it is a beautiful thing to see. Scott Paige comes into the show as a new cast member this year, and completely makes the role of Mr Poppy his own. He is a bundle of energy, jumping around the stage like an overgrown child, excitement fizzing around everything he does. It was obvious that he was a favourite of everyone in the audience and he suits this comedic heartwarming role to an absolute tee.

Ashleigh Gray plays the role of Jennifer Lore, and she comes to the part with a wonderful grace and an effortless beauty. You can’t help but feel for this character when she realises what she really wants. Charles Brunton impresses in the role of Oakmoor School headmaster Mr Shakespeare, a character obsessed with five star ratings and beating Mr Maddens to the best Nativity. Brunton’s effortless performance has the audience in stitches. In multiple roles including that of critic Patrick Burns, Jamie Chapman showed off his natural flair for comedy much to the delight of the audience. Dani Dyer, perhaps most well known for her stint on ‘Love Island’ plays the role of Hollywood Producer Polly Parker, and whilst not the best vocally, she gives her all to her performance and suits the role. The adult ensemble make it look very easy to switch between roles in the blink of an eye. I must highlight Kade Ferraiolo as Mr Rye who was brilliantly funny when performing alongside the children in the Nativity performance and whilst left to look after Cracker the dog (Pepper the pooch is adorable) . Billy Roberts was also a stand out in the ensemble, looking like he was having the time of his life up there.

St Bernadette’s headmistress says it perfectly when she calls each child a little pocket of stardust. The children in this cast are incredible, each able to bring heart and soul to their characters whilst performing in big number after big number. They make it all look simple. Evie Bennell-Low is a delight as the sparkling star of Bethlehem, Alexander Hogg impresses as Ollie, Isabel Landers won the heart of the audience with her Christmas song alongside Dani Dyer and Grace Townley is able to make the audience laugh with just a simple facial expression. I must also congratulate Lyla Peters, Erin Freeman, Alastair Nqwenya, Thomas Bastable, Gerald Nqwenya, Nicholas Vakis and Olivia Brooks on their great performances.

The songs in this show are just amazing. From the funny ‘Hollywood is Coming’ and the much loved ‘Sparkle and Shine’ to the softer more heartfelt moments of ‘Dear Father Christmas’ and ‘Suddenly’, there is something for everyone in this show. We have those famous scenes from the film that we all love, mixed in with new scenes that you will love just as much.

What director, composer and writer Debbie Isitt has done is created a show that appeals to all ages. We all laugh, we all feel our heartstrings being pulled at and we all find a character we can relate too. We can feel for Mr Maddens with his sadness over Jennifer and his desperation to make things right for the children. We can feel for Mr Poppy with his desire to be the children’s friend and to make them happy. We can feel for Jennifer for reaching for her dreams. All of this comes together to form something wonderful, a show that everyone can enjoy, with ridiculous levels of talent in it’s cast and I can guarantee that you will walk out of this one humming with a great big smile on your face.

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