Janet Plater and Christina Berriman Dawson
Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle
If you want a proper Christmas, there are certain things you’ve got to have: a proper Christmas dinner, a tree and tinsel, mince pies, a visit to a panto and a nativity play. Now, I’m not a great one for trees and tinsel (although I am for a proper Christmas dinner and mince pies!) and I see plenty of pantos, but it’s been quite a while since I last saw a nativity. But not this year; last night I saw my first nativity play for more than ten years.
For that is what Janet Plater’s Hull’s Angel (described simply as a “play with songs”) is. It’s a bit different, though. It opens with three scientists discussing a new star which is going to appear in the sky—over Hull! It’s set in the present day and features a Geordie hairdresser called Mary who has a boyfriend called Joe, who comes from Hull and works on the oil rigs. Now Mary has a visit from an odd guy who tells her she’s going to have a baby—and she is not pleased! And when Joe gets back from four months in the Texas oilfield and finds she is pregnant, neither is he.
I don’t want to give away the plot, but it involves them travelling to Hull, some shepherds, Prince Harry, the three scientists in disguise, a DIY shed in a B&B’s garden…
There is one thing which seems a bit strange: the set and all the props are made out of cardboard, and that includes the sheep, the donkey and the camels (well, there have to be camels. Obviously.), the mobile 'phones, the laptops, the shed. Everything.
“Well, we didn’t have a budget for props,” Plater said with a smile afterwards, but I rather think it’s a clever idea from director and designer Matt Jamie to relate it to every primary school nativity you’ve ever seen. What matters is that it’s funny—as is everything else about the production.
Relaxed, gentle humour with the carols without which it wouldn’t be a proper Christmas play. They were beautifully sung too, a capella, led by the sweet voice of Samantha Phyllis Morris who plays three of the fifteen parts.
It’s a very strong cast—three from Newcastle (Morris, Christina Berriman Dawson and Matt Jamie) and three from Hull (Tim Bettridge, Jacqueline Rodgers and Phil Woods)—who effortlessly slip between characters and situations, sing well and, most important of all, treat the rather unlikely story with total conviction and commitment, which just makes it all so much funnier.
And there’s a twist in the tail which had the audience howling with laughter.
At only 50 minutes, it’s the perfect short Christmas entertainment, different but with all the comfortable familiarity of tradition, and did I mention it’s very funny?
After Newcastle, the production follows Mary and Joe’s journey and plays at Hull’s Kardomah from 19 to 24 December.
Reviewer: Peter Lathan