Playwright Tim Firth (Calendar Girls, Sign of the Times) recalls the lessons he learnt while writing a comedy about a school Christmas show - The Flint Street Nativity:

Come Christmas, there are always those cynics who dismiss infant nativity plays as pointless charades. What lessons, they ask, are to be learnt in the modern age from watching kids trying to work out what a "virgin's womb" is and how not to "abhor" it? The answer is many, for all concerned – not in the tale itself, but in the telling.
For time-starved teachers at the end of term, the casting of a nativity is an object lesson in social engineering and appeasement. In the darkest vaults of each infant school is an unspoken template which can be slapped on any class register: Mary – give it to the girl whose parents are most trouble. Joseph – the docile boy who is happy being led round like a Victorian orphan but would protest at being the donkey. Donkey – give it to the kid who doesn't mind being a donkey. (There’s always one, and the chances are that they will achieve the greatest happiness in later life.) Gabriel – give it to the girl who could have been Mary but whose parents were less trouble.

Shepherds – any child who won't go on without their best friend. Wise Men – any child who won't go on without their best friend but can also be trusted to carry out a simple motor function when glared at.
Star of Bethlehem – save this for the child who is odds-on to back out at the last minute. You can always have a cardboard star. Narrators – these are your Corinthian pillars. Choose wisely, since the membrane separating the world of adults from that of children is never thinner than during a nativity: on stage, children act like adults, while in the audience adults seethe with infantile jealousies.

In a world where school football touchlines are peppered with proto-Mourinhos reprimanding refs for not helping their kids' side win, it's a refreshing slap in the face to know that there is, and will only ever be, one Mary. The children play adults, but it is the adults who are forced to grow up.
The stinging lesson learnt first-hand by the children prepares them for one of the toughest issues they will ever have to face in adulthood - the part you end up with in life may not be the part you feel you deserve. The dock leaf to the sting, however, is that very often what you thought to be the best part turns out not to be so.
In Flint Street Junior School, Mrs Horrocks’ class of seven year olds is about to perform their nativity play for the proud mums and dads – and the occasional Social Worker. Squabbles arise when Gabriel wants to play Mary, the Star grumbles that he’s not a proper star like they have at NASA, Herod won’t stop waving to his mum and dad, and the subversive Innkeeper is determined to liven up the traditional script. And then the stick insect escapes ….
Tim Firth’s warm, witty, funny play is an ideal alternative to the usual pre-Christmas fare – it’s full of good things but is entirely non-fattening, and will bring back memories for anyone who has ever acted in a school nativity as a child or sat entranced watching their own children or grandchildren telling the same timeless story.

Read the review of this play by Sue Dupont of NODA

Home Page