Christmas arrives in Birmingham early this year with the smash-hit festive film Nativity being brought to the stage as a brand new musical.
The feel-good family musical centres around St Bernadette’s School who are attempting to create a musical version of the traditional nativity play. Teacher Mr Maddens promises the children that a Hollywood producer will be visiting to watch the show, and with the help of his crazy teaching assistant Mr Poppy and the enthusiastic kids, they put on a production that will never be forgotten.
I caught up with Daniel Boys and Simon Lipkin who play Mr Maddens and Mr Poppy in the new musical. Simon is taking on the role as hilarious Mr Poppy, “He is so loved by everyone that watches the film which is a mildly intimidating task to take on,” he said. Describing the character, Simon told me, “I think he is a big, big kid with a big heart who just wants everything to go right. He just wants friends because he probably didn’t have any when he was little and he has never grown up. He is like Peter Pan and a fairy godmother all rolled into one.”
Keeping him on the straight and narrow is the sensible but lovable Mr Maddens. Daniel Boys expressed that he loved the film and like Simon, did numerous workshops with the musical. “I deliberately didn’t want to do a Martin Freeman impression, as it’s boring to just replicate someone, but also I think he is incredible in the role so I wanted to make it my own way,” he said.
Alongside the well-known songs from the film, the stage show takes it to another level with even more musical numbers, sparkle, and shine. “We are able to explore characters slightly more than you see in the film,” Daniel told me. Starting rehearsals in September, the kids have been cast locally from the Midlands and there are three sets of kids that alternate between playing each school and having a week off. Daniel explained, “They are just kids that have been taken out of their primary school. The director Debbie is very clever, as the children she has cast bring such an innocence to the kids roles.”
They say never work with children or animals and with 27 kids in the show and one dog, it certainly is a challenge. I wondered if they have to be prepared for the children to adlib or go off script and Simon laughed, “If things happen, the kids say something, or I say something, we have that freedom to play with it which I think makes it so exciting, as it means that the show is looking amazing but each night there might be just that little gem that only that audience gets to see, which is brilliant.”
Daniel added, “I was nervous about it when I did the first workshop as I’ve never adlibbed before, Simon is just brilliant at it and relishes in it, I am in awe of how quick his mind works. It used to scare me but not anymore because if the kids give us different lines it’s really exciting, even with Simon he changes it all the time so I am on my toes the whole time.” Simon added, “It’s funny because you’re rehearsing and thinking ‘this is working well’ and then the moment the kids turn up and bring their beautiful magic to it, all of a sudden it bursts alive and you realise how incredible they are.”
Working extremely closely together, Simon and Daniel have a strong dynamic having known each other before being cast in the show, Simon explained, “When you’re doing a double act it is incredibly difficult to get the balance right as it takes time, but when you have someone that you’ve known and have a relationship with it is amazing.”
Although they’re putting on Christmas nativity in the show, it is a production that is about more than just Christmas. Daniel expressed, “I think people will leave thinking ‘oh my god I wasn’t expecting to be moved so much,’ the success of the film has a real heart, yes it’s funny and set at Christmas time but there are really real and truthful characters.”
The original film was filmed just down the road from Birmingham in Coventry and both Daniel and Simon are delighted to be opening the show at the Birmingham Rep. “There is a real buzz about it already,” said Daniel. “I’d never been to the Rep before and I think it was wonderful.”
Opening in just a matter of weeks, the highly anticipated musical will tour the UK, asking Daniel why he thinks people should see the show, he told me, “In a concise sentence, I know people will like this show because it is full of Christmas, comedy, and fun. There are kids, a dog, good songs, good music, excellent theatre. We give out chocolate (that bit is slightly not true so don’t print that.)”
Catch Nativity the Musical at the Birmingham Rep ahead of it’s UK tour from Friday 20 October – Sunday 12 November, tickets and information can be found here.