Coventry meets Hollywood in Nativity! the Musical, a festive explosion of joy, glitter and feel good escapism. It’s fairly impossible not to leave with a smile on your face after a couple of hours in the company of this energetic cast, made up of largely, small children. Nativity! was of course a hit British film, with two sequels, now reincarnated as a stage production.

The demands and late hours of theatre (as opposed to movies) make working with youngsters especially challenging. I can only imagine the paperwork that was involved in flying two of them (for some time) high above the stage. Added to the charm of this spectacle, is the inclusion of fifteen local kids, selected from hundreds, to play the pupils of Oakwood School. Oakwood is the well heeled private school, forever achieving against the underdogs at St Bernadettes.

Much is made of St Bernadettes being the poor relation of Oakwood, failing on all fronts and at risk of closure. But, as this is a stage show, it’s a necessity that the children performing are relatively erudite, confident and drilled – making the suspension of disbelief a little trickier (this does not resemble a deprived or underachieving school). Nativity! the Musical is not about gritty reality though, and neither should it be. It’s a crowd pleaser for all the family. The pivotal message that every child is amazing and talented, regardless of privilege and opportunity, is an important one and cutely conveyed nevertheless.

Don’t go to see this show purely for its star draw. Jo Brand isn’t on stage all that much and seems awkward when she is. In contrast to the rest of the cast, Brand speaks her songs and the comedic input is minimal. However, do go and see this show for Simon Lipkin, who lights up the stage as Mr Poppy. Lipkin can move, clown and belt out the tunes with skill, while oozing charisma, humour and likability. Scott Garnham is strong too as Mr Maddens, the children’s teacher. However, there is one character who never fails to draw focus – three year old Pepper the dog, as Cracker the dog, an adorable cameo drawing ‘aaaahs’ from the audience at regular intervals.

The children are amazing and the final group numbers have us out of our seats and clapping along. There’s a sense of hope in the story, mirrored in the upbeat effervescence of the performers, numbers, lavish sparkling set and colourful costumes. Nativity! the Musical is warm, optimistic, light entertainment with a moral – ideal for the start of advent.

Photos courtesy of Richard Davenport

Nativity! The Musical runs at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until Sunday 2nd December 2018