REVIEW: Shining performances in The Flint Street Nativity

The Flint Street Nativity Play, presented by HADIT, at Hope Methodist Chapel.
The Flint Street Nativity Play, presented by HADIT, at Hope Methodist Chapel.
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I attended HADIT’s latest production at the Hope Methodist Hall ready for a gentle, relaxing pre-Christmas knockabout – some laughs, a few carols. It didn’t turn out that way.

Like flint itself, Tim Firth’s The Flint St Nativity is hard, sharp, and some sparks were certainly created.

The joys and woes of putting on a kiddies’ nativity are highlighted in this well observed play which is funny, thought provoking and, at times, emotionally

challenging.

The cast of adults portray a class of seven-year-olds all playing their parts for Mrs Horrocks, the teacher who is never seen but is ever present.

Jenny Bennett, the blue-eyed girl, always ready with her answers and over keen to please, was convincingly played by Jenni Argent. She gets the plum role of Mary of course. Jenny is supported (not really) by Ryan as Joseph (wonderfully played by Paul Archer). Unfortunately, Ryan is easily distracted and lives in his own fantasy sports world. He is dragged around from inn to inn by Jenny but he’s far more interested in impressing his parents in the audience than acquiring shelter or impending fatherhood. Poor Jenny is also challenged throughout by school bully and arch manipulator Ashley (skilfully played by Jo Elliott). Intent on stealing Jenny’s thunder with her alternative Jesus, Ashley’s ambition knows no bounds, culminating in a sinister climax where the little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head, which then rolls regally downstage towards the front row. A ‘heady’ yet somewhat disturbing mix of comedy and tragedy.

Other participants include Zoe (First Shepherd), the blunt talking, unfeeling farmer’s daughter, unaware of the power of words and of their consequences. There’s no real malice, just unfettered, non P.C. straight talking. A role excellently played by Jane Bramwell and well-supported by her sidekick, the almost silent Judith Coates. 
We were also treated to an interstellar ‘other worldly’ performance from Martin Chapman as Marcus, a space nut who wishes for a more authentic portrayal of the Star of Bethlehem. He is pestered throughout by the sinister Bradley (a lurking Nick Williams in Norman Bates mode). Marcus escapes his everyday troubles and gets to live out his ‘far out’ fantasy in a climactic scene involving an escapee from the Nature table blown up to monster proportions on the overhead projector.

The Flint Street children’s production is held together (kind of) by the over anxious Tim as narrator (movingly played by Tim Smallwood) just hoping to please and not be a disappointment, with parental difficulties at home never too far from his mind. Other moving performances were given by Fiona Johnson as the speech impaired Annie and Pushpita Mukherjee as Shamima, daughter of a go-ahead pushy mother, friends and not friends (as allegiances shift) with Jess (Cheryl Mulvey), the emotional ‘round lass’ who just yearns for acceptance. And we mustn’t forget to give a nod to the ‘donkey’. How could we forget Andrew (sensitively played by Jon Haddock) the foul-mouthed kid from the special unit who doubles as counsellor and all round ‘wise ass’.

In the finale we get to meet the parents over mulled wine and nibbles. ‘Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man’. Aristotle’s words pre-date Christ but are just as poignant today. At the soirée we get some clues as to why the kids are as they are, an insight into their values, dreams and insecurities. Are the kids to blame for their bluntness, indiscretions, lack of compassion? This is emotion in the raw – children laid bare, with no decorations, tinsel or trimmings, a tree before it is dressed to impress, a turkey plucked and stuffed but not yet cooked. Through their parents, we get a glimpse of what adulthood may hold for these young ‘luvvies’, for better or worse. The future is unknown but full of dangers, hope and possibilities.

David Garwes on keyboard competently provided the musical thread that allowed each child (and adult) to share with us their innermost thoughts and concerns.

HADIT do not shy away from difficult productions and this is another fine example of a challenging play that was well produced, well acted and well received, leaving in the air the inevitable question . . . ‘what’s next?’