It’s that time of year again, that strikes joy or dread into the heart of every 5 year old, depending on how much of an unpopular div they are.
Ladies and gentlemen: the Nativity play.
Around the beginning of October, you’ll notice your teacher has started behaving very strangely – muttering to themselves, staring at bits of paper, and chain smoking while they’re supposed to be teaching you about triceratops.
This can only mean one thing: they’ve been given the honourable task of arranging this year’s Nativity play. ‘Nativity’, if you’re not aware, is Latin for “God got me up the stick and then Jesus shot out of my fanny – The Musical”. It’s also Latin for “It’s your fucking turn Phil, I did it last year and Sharon did it the year before that.”
So the task falls to your teacher to give every child an equally large and important role, despite that being an unachievable task.
Roles were allocated to children based on the following criteria:
- Are they reasonably normal looking, and unlikely to piss on the stage? (Mary/Joseph)
- Can they read more than three words without crying? (Angel Gabriel/Narrator)
- Do they have their own tea towels? (Shepherds)
- Do they have a beard (unlikely but you never know)? (Kings)
- Are they fat and clumsy with a mullet? (Donkey)
- Are they naughty but their parents are a big wheel at the cracker factory? (Innkeeper)
- Does your school have a budget of more than 3p? (Herod)
- Are they snot-and-lurgie-riddled gimps who must be kept away from the public at all costs? (Chorus)
Despite your instant assumption that I was the donkey, I was in fact the Narrator, because everyone else in my class was stupid. I was still fat with a mullet though, so that placed my teachers in a tough position. To be fair, I would have made a very sturdy and functional donkey. It just so happened that my reading skills were slightly better than my ‘being a div with a mullet’ skills.
Sometimes the Angel Gabriel/Narrator roles are merged. This happens when only one child in the class can read the Puddle Lane Level 5 books. Thus, double pressure was put upon my poor shoulders.
Despite me never being Mary, I do know a little bit about method acting, and the preparation that goes into creating such an iconic character in the Jesus Cinematic Universe.
In order to fully prepare for the role of Mary, the actress must have at least one year experience being a popular girl in the class. Additionally, she must have long hair and a Forever Friends pencil tin. She must also be fancied by Daniel, Ben, or similar.
Joseph is always this twat:
Who, despite having an IQ of 8, and being famous for punching everyone in the class, including the teacher, is still considered the most “Joseph-y”.
Contrary to the above statement, Alex informs me that he once played Joseph. However, Alex went to an all boys school, so make of that what you will.
Once roles are allocated, the laborious process of rehearsal begins. This involves each cast member (even the donkeys) being given a “script” (half a piece of paper), with their lines marked with a highlighter pen. The cast are supposed to take their script home and study it in the manner of Robert De Niro, but instead what happens is that the cast take their scripts home and immediately lose them, prompting Mrs Johnson, the school secretary, to tut and fire up the photocopier again.
Rehearsals are great, because it means you don’t do any work for all of Friday afternoon. Instead you’re all summoned to the hall, where you will gather around two tables nailed together (the ‘stage’), and ordered to do the play, as if any of you have learned even one word of your lines. This is fine because A) most of you can’t read anyway, and B) all Nativity play scripts have the word “Lo!” in them at some point, so that’s something to be getting on with. Sometimes one of you will have to say a line about “Mary’s breast”, which immediately renders you all helpless until half 3.
After eight weeks of RADA level rehearsing, your teacher will announce that “Fine that’ll do. We’re having the dress rehearsal on Monday, so bring your costumes in.” Then they go outside for a cigarette.
For the most part, your costume involves a tea towel.
If you’re a donkey, your parents will have an old brown coat knocking about somewhere, that smells of mould and wee. If you’re the Angel Gabriel, your costume consists of a bedsheet and some tinsel on your head.
The narrator doesn’t need a costume. The narrator would have bloody liked a costume, but was never asked.
Finally, the big day arrives!
You stand in the wings (outside the hall doors), and wait nervously as Mary and Joseph threaten to kick each other in the bits, and one of the donkeys really needs the toilet really badly. You stand there, a beacon of poise and professionalism, wearing your best paisley jumper and culottes. As soon as you hear Mrs McGarvey start playing the piano, it’s time to lead your ragtag group of artistes out into the world of theatre and lasting fame.
After 30 seconds, this is the audience:
Try not to feel offended – they’ve only come to see their crappy offspring perform, and their offspring has turned out to be a donkey/disappointment. Rest assured, your parents will be paying attention, and clapping when you manage to say the word ‘breast’ without laughing, because you are a professional goddamnit.
Despite your teacher’s best efforts, some of the cast will bollocks up. The innkeeper will say that yes, there’s loads of room at the inn, Mary will drop Jesus (Tiny Tears) on his head, and the Angel Gabriel will do a wee on the stage. Do not allow your artistic integrity to be compromised by these amateurs, just carry on reading “And lo, there was a big fuck off star in the sky.”
After the play (spoiler alert – Jesus shoots out of Mary’s fanny and invents Christmas), the parents are treated to a rousing chorus of ‘Away In A Manger’ by the snot-riddled gimps.
Finally, it’s all over, and the parents will gather in a classroom for mince pies and deathly strong orange squash in plastic cups, while the cast gets changed and celebrates a banging performance. No one mentions Gabriel weeing himself, or the narrator’s shit jumper.
It’s dark when you emerge from the ‘dressing room’, which mean’s it must be 11pm. this is past your bedtime, so you are immediately excited. Requests for a McDonalds are met with “We’ll see”, which means “No, we have slop at home”. Even so, your parents will congratulate you on “reading all those words”, and will let you open one of your Christmas presents early. (Spoiler: it’s a shit ‘notelet’ set.)
Merry Christmas etc.
Before I go – I must brag about the time I struck a blow for women’s rights, and was awarded the role of ‘Artaban, the fourth wise man’ in our play one year. The teacher initially said “No, Jenny can’t do it, she’s a girl,”, and the whole class had a paddy until he said “Fine, whatever.”
Artaban was late and turned up without a gift, because he gave all the gifts to poor people he met along the way, but in the end Jesus was all ‘Oh, you did the right thing. You’re the best wise man’. Banging play.
Why I drew Sonic the Hedgehog on my script remains a mystery for the ages.