Angelic host welcome old shepherd back to the fold;News

24th December 1999 at 00:00
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a Nativity play. The Times theatre critic Nigel Cliff watches the show.

THE LAST time I went to a Nativity, I was about six and I was in it. I think I was a wise man, though I might have been a shepherd. The only other things I remember are that I delivered my lines (okay, line) very slowly and very loudly to the front of the stage, and that my mother fashioned me a rather fetching cloak out of a pair of bright blue velvet curtains.

This time around, Bessemer Grange primary in Herne Hill, south London, was the scene of my reinitiation.

Deputy head-teacher Jane Giles introduced the festivities, and together with early-years teachers Fran Byrne and Mary Callard, she certainly did a fine job of organising the cast of thousands. Well, 40 at least that I counted. The first sight that met my eyes was a group of very serene angels sitting in a circle. Where was all the hullabaloo? Nowhere, apparently, because through an open door I glimpsed some equally patient shepherds tending to their flock. I am sure I was not this well-behaved.

Very sensibly, the school had provided most of the costumes itself. And very fine they were too, particularly a wise young man resplendent in feathery head-gear. Though the most spendid of all, a deep-pile donkey outfit with whose wearer my companion fell in love, was provided by a parent.

I imagine our Nativity was a more traditional affair than Niki Davies's new version. Whoops-A-Daisy Angel tells the story of a clumsy little member of the heavenly host who redeems himself when he lands the job of bringing the good news of Jesus's birth.

It is low on action - the stable scene takes up only a minute at the end. But with its array of angels, snowflakes, sheep and shepherds, many of them given a few words apiece, it proved eminently suitable for a cast of three- to five-year-olds.

In they trooped two by two, as if an even older story were being told, and up the first song struck. Not only was the choir not invisible; in the case of one little girl it was most definitely not inaudible. Rather confusingly playing one of the three wise men, her enthusiasm threatened single-handedly to drown out everyone else.

"Oh how angelic we can beWe're so angelic, don't you agree?" went one chorus, and for the moment at least, everybody did.

The angel formerly known as Clumsy pulled his mouth into all sorts of grimaces and looked suitably abashed. The three cheers that greeted his reprieve rang out roundly, everyone applauded heartily and I felt thoroughly nostalgic.

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