There is a cracking joke in this musical about a failing primary school which puts on a musical about the Christmas story. A little lad asks his teacher if he can play Joseph and explains why. “Because my mum is having a baby and my dad doesn’t think it’s his!”
Now you wouldn’t get that in any American import but then this is a very British musical with nods to Hogwarts and jokes about James Corden and Britain’s Got Talent. America would have had this dripping with saccharine. There are gooey scenes – well, there’s a real poodle and lots of winsome kids – but it is not oversweetened.
This is the stage version of Debbie Isitt’s very successful series of films with new scenes and songs and still set in Coventry, not translated across the Atlantic as some local hits have been.
The kids are great. Some are very young but the piece is held together wonderfully by Simon Lipkin as Mr Poppy, the child-like teaching assistant at St Bernadette’s Catholic School, who sets a story running that Hollywood is coming to film the musical.
The show was stopped for 10 minutes early in the second act because of a technical fault. Ironically, there is a scripted power fault later on when a rival school sabotages the power supply and the audience is urged to point their phones at the stage as emergency lighting. A nice touch.
It’s a show which makes you feel good and the standing ovation at the end was well earned. Let Christmas begin!
* Martin Dawes