This isn’t a sponsored post.
For Brum Radio’s Interval Theatre, Billy Roberts spoke about his role in Nativity! The Musical at Birmingham Rep. Listen below:
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
Review: Nativity! The Musical at Birmingham Rep
Written, by Debbie Isitt with music by Debbie Isitt and Nicky Ager
Everyone has their own Christmas traditions that create a sense of magic and comfort during the festive period. Whether it’s getting heartburn at Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market or snuggling up in new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, we all anticipate returning to these rituals at “the most wonderful time of the year.” One of mine is that I must always rewatch the film Nativity at least once in the run-up to the big day.
The stage production of my favourite Christmas film, which first hit the stage in 2017, has been a continued success for the Birmingham Rep, and this year, I finally got a hold of some tickets. I was apprehensive that the show might sit in the shadow of the film for audience members like me, who know the film inside out and could religiously recite the script.
But guess what? I was wrong – because this show is absolutely incredible. As soon as I left my seat at the end of the show, I knew I wanted to sit back down and watch it again. Encore please, Birmingham Rep.
Nativity revolves around Mr Maddens, a primary school teacher at a working-class Catholic primary school: When the headteacher’s childish but infectiously fun nephew, Mr Poppy, joins the school as Mr Maddens’s teaching assistant, chaos ensues. Mr Maddens has also been tasked with the job of staging the school nativity, after a disastrous attempt rated as ‘minus two stars’ by a local theatre critic only a few years ago. To top if off, the man now hates Christmas, after the love of his life flew off to Hollywood during the festive period five years ago, and has never returned.
When his former friend from drama school, Mr Shakespeare, is a little too condescending while the pair bump into each other on a Christmas tree shopping trip, Mr Maddens tells a lie. Unaware that Mr Poppy overhears him and believes it to be true, the primary school teacher tells his former friend that his nativity production is getting a very special trip from Hollywood, courtesy of Jennifer. The lie escalates as it spreads through the city of Coventry like wildfire, and Mr Maddens and Mr Poppy must do their best to entice Hollywood into actually coming, or risk the whole city finding out their lie.
Our main cast are absolute delights, each and every one of them. None are intimidated by the shoes they are stepping into and instead bring the characters vividly to life in their own image. Billy Roberts is a perfect Mr Maddens, a man who has lost his way a la It’s A Wonderful Life. His clipped, sarcastic comments to Mr Poppy and the children are brilliant, especially as it’s hard to be the straight man in an unfolding world of chaos. Ben Lancaster, in my opinion, is an even better Mr Poppy than the original – bringing an endearing curiosity and kindness to the character.
However, there was one performance that took my breath away. While Jason Watkins in the film portrays Gordon Shakespeare with a nuanced undertone of jealousy, Matthew Rowland has the time of his life bringing a flamboyant villain to the stage. Stealing every scene he’s in, Rowland is an unstoppable force of nature, clearly revelling in playing such a deliciously self-centred role. He thrums with manic energy as he plots and schemes to become the star of the show, hell-bent on outperforming against his peers.
And then there’s our multi-talented cast of children, each of whom sparkles and shines. All of them should be incredibly proud. While I won’t single any out for performances, it’s hard not to coo at how adorable Matilda Flower is as the Star.
That’s without mentioning how the sets are visual feasts and how the script is impeccably updated with timely jokes – mentioning everyone from Liz Truss to Philip Schofield.
An unmissable show, guaranteed to warm the hearts of anyone who has the privilege to see it. And I urge that you do. Nativity! The Musical is at Birmingham Rep until 7th January 2023. Book tickets here: birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/nativity-the-musical.