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REVIEW: Nativity The Musical by Bishop’s Stortford Academy of Performing Arts at South Mill Arts, Bishop’s Stortford, Tuesday November 8-Saturday November 12

Nativity the Musical, by Debbie Isit and Nicky Ager, is glitzy, cheesy, has Andrew Lloyd Webber references and is about children performing. Everything about this show at South Mill Arts meant I should have loved it. It did not let me down, writes LucyKate Newland.

There was wonderful comic timing and great stage presence – but that’s enough about Cracker the dog, played by natural performer Waffle (the pet dog of the talented Budd family: director Hailey, her husband Alex, who played Mr Maddens, and their four children, all of whom were in the show).

Right from the beginning we were filled with Christmas spirit as Santa walked around giving sweets to excited children in the audience, which set the mood for the next couple of hours.

As we followed Mr Maddens, Mr Poppy and the pupils of St Bernadette’s as they got ready for their Nativity show, I laughed so much throughout, I cried when they wrote to Father Christmas, but, mostly, I felt so much joy at watching the cast enjoying every minute.

There are no standout performances as everyone was so talented and so confident. All 63 children and adults in the cast gelled as one and, talking to a cast member afterwards, this was reinforced; the camaraderie and inclusive nature of all the cast was brought to the stage from the very start.

The audience was full of children and hearing them laugh so heartily was so lovely. Children enjoying the theatre because their favourite film has been brought to life is such a special moment.

It was so professionally performed, I could have been at the West End. Bishop’s Stortford Academy of Performing Arts consistently deliver and they improve every time. This is the best they have done.

The show was very technical, with lots of scene and costume changes. These were very polished and the stage crew and costume department are as talented as the cast.

Between St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor Prep pupils, there were 47 children and 16 adults, which made it a lot of people to have in the right place, so praise must go to choreographer Chloe-Lee Frazer as well as director Hailey Budd. The cast performed the show six times – including a Saturday matinee – and the stamina of every member is incredible.

It is also important to mention musical director Keith Willis. The music was exceptional and it was so lovely to have a live six-piece band. Keith also adapted some of the music to meet the shows needs. He is a very talented man.

Mrs Beavan, head of St Bernadette’s, says “every child is a little pocket of stardust” and this is true of the whole cast.

A dad and his young son came all the way from Kent to see the Saturday performance. I sat next to them and his son was so enchanted throughout. At the end he said: “I loved it, I was so close to the real Mr Poppy.”

This show kept the magic of theatre alive and is a lesson in what children can achieve when adults believe in them.

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