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Tales from the crib

It's not just on-stage antics that make Nativity plays embarrassing. Our man in the audience of the Liverpool Playhouse's new show makes all his own red-faced moves

Published on December 13th 2006.

Tales from the crib

My date hadn’t started well. The Christmas market outside the Playhouse coaxed me into buying a big German sausage, and my accompanying mulled wine, in turn, caused me to drop my big German sausage onto my black jumper.

When I was six years old, my mum made me sit in a bin liner so that I didn’t drop any food on my shepherd's outfit. Seventeen years later and it’s clear I may as well still be six. I still have difficulty eating and I’m still as jubilant over Christmas as ever.

I think everyone can remember a ghost from their Nativity past - the jealousies, the competition for parts, the backstabbing, the nerves and the forgetting of lines. These themes are very much alive in Flint Street Primary School. The twist in this particular Nativity is that Mary, Shepherd, Ass and co are all played by adults.

The parts in Tim Firth's comedy are dished out in the usual way. The good girl is Mary; the boy who doesn’t mind being dragged around by Mary is Joseph; the boy from the special learning unit is the donkey…”The special unit’s good. You get extra long breaks and biscuits,” the ass exclaims.

The fact that children were being played by adults was instantly forgotten. The actors took on the mannerisms of children with ease, even singing Bethlehem extra loud to make up for the words they didn’t know. Soon Joseph was waving to his parents, the innkeeper was making up his own lines, and Mary was in fierce competition with the Angel Gabriel. By the end both were holding very different looking Jesuses. I’d still be listening to the Frankincense Bearer with the severe lisp now, if the Playhouse had let me.

The cast is made up of a great blend of familiar faces and each character brings with them a vivid and awkward nostalgic memory from past Nativities. The play ends by introducing the parents that the children have so brilliantly exposed throughout the Nativity. And there are poignant moments: The Narrator’s dad anxiously tells Mary’s mum that he and his wife are splitting up and the child doesn’t know yet. “He’s seven years old, he would have known before you did,” she replies.

And then there was the laughter, and plenty of it. In fact it came at a price.

One woman was so hysterical and shouting out “Oh God!” so loudly that I thought she was going to have a hernia. Also, the bloke behind me had perfected a mixture of a cough and a laugh which, when orchestrated, continued to scare the crap out of me.

Anyway, just as my hotdog fiasco had been forgotten, and I was sure my date’s leg rubbed intentionally against mine, the donkey shouted out “boobs" as I was taking a gulp of beer. Pleased immeasurably by such toilet humour, I laughed the beer straight out of my nose and onto my lap. The girl was not impressed, but then she was probably a Mary in her Nativity play. I thought I was happy being a Joseph but, in truth, I have always been more of an ass.

*Flint Street Nativity, Liverpool Playhouse, until Saturday January 20.

Ben Patey

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