Most parents will be all too familiar with the Xmas nativity. It’s that time of the year when schools up and down the country roll out their own unique take on the festive Xmas play. Cardboard & poster-paint will magically morph into Bethlehem, while bed sheets & tinsel miraculously turn into angel costumes.Well this is how it was when I was at school. It is pleasing to see that the cardboard & paint tradition still remains strong (certainly a lot stronger that the actual scenery!!!) Costumes however are entirely different. Today’s overly commercial world makes the school nativity slightly easier for the already stressed parent. Sawyer was a donkey in his first nativity and we were all prepared to raid our wardrobes for a suitable donkey-like item of clothing. We have a pretty eclectic wardrobe 🙂 If said item needed altering or adding to, then so be it. it was a sacrifice we were more than willing to make.The thought of being the bad parents who couldn’t supply our child with a decent costume didn’t bear thinking about. Word would soon spread through the village 😯
As luck would have it, we were kindly offered a ‘donkey costume’ from the parent of last year’s donkey. A donkey costume!!! A complete, head to toe donkey costume. Yes it was absolutely massive on Sawyer, but there was no mistaking him as a donkey. This was no homemade, rushed, cobbled together attempt at a costume, this had been shop bought, as many costumes are today. Nativity costumes have moved on a lot since I was a child. I’ve paid to watched films with worse costumes than some of ones I saw at this year’s nativity play 😯
I always find it refreshing when the school nativity breaks from tradition slightly. We had ‘cool’ wise men one year. Donned in leather jackets, dark glasses and looking like they’d just walked from the set of Pulp Fiction!!! This year the poor forgotten about stable animals took centre stage. The whole nativity story was told through the eyes of the sheep, donkey, camels & cat (I can’t remember a cat either!!!). The costume budget went through the roof. Mary & Joseph were almost bit-parts in this play, which for me, made a nice change. It also got me thinking about my starring, if slightly surreal, role in my school’s nativity…
I can’t remember exactly how old I was when I performed in the play; maybe 9 or 10? I also have absolutely no recollection of any of my school’s other nativity plays. I’m guessing I did one every year during Junior school, but maybe I didn’t? Maybe my school’s other plays were all very traditional and I’ve simply blanked them from my memory. The play I do remember was far from traditional. A script had been found somewhere. In the drama section of the local library, I highly doubt it. In the wondrous imagination of one of my teachers, after a few too many sherries, quite possibly. This would be a very different Xmas nativity.
With Christmas fast approaching, there was the usual excitable buzz around my school. The upcoming Xmas play just ramped up the excitement level a few notches and as always, there was the customary clamor for the main roles. The confident kids wanted the biggest parts. The shy kids, a camp I was firmly in, simply wanted nothing to do with the stupid play at all. The casting of Mary & Joseph was the gossip event of the winter term. My class had a few prime candidates for the starring roles and quite frankly, as far as I was concerned, they were very welcome to them.
Predictably two confident kids were cast as Mary & Joseph. A few groans could be heard from other disappointed confident kids. Back in the shy kid camp, even the casting was a torturous ordeal we wanted no part of, but things this year were about to get a little surreal…
Teacher: ‘I’m going to let Tracey play Cilla Black’ (Yes that’s the Cilla Black!!!)
Teacher: ‘Stephen, you can be Bruce Forsyth,’ (WHAT???)
Teacher: ‘I need you 6 to be in the talent show,’ (Talent show???)
Teacher: ‘And finally, I want Andrew to be the clap-o-meter.’ (A what???)
Teacher: ‘All happy?‘
My classroom had never been so quiet. Was this a joke? How the hell do Cilla & Bruce bloody Forsyth feature in a Xmas nativity? And what on earth was a clap-o-meter? Had Mr Edmunds lost the plot entirely? Apparently he hadn’t, as he unveiled this year’s nativity story to my utterly bewildered class. It soon became apparent that Cilla & Brucey featured quite heavily. Mary & Joseph less so. Puzzled looks were exchanged and kids were far from happy. Confident kids had been given lesser roles and some shy kids had been handed the main ones. This was bad. In a few weeks time I would be co-hosting a nativity talent show, on stage, in front of loads of people. This was very bad indeed 😯
At home my parents raided their wardrobe for something suitably Bruce Forsyth-like. I think I ended up with one my dad’s jackets & a tie. Episodes of The Generation Game now had extra significance in the Coley household. I’d been told to remember as many Brucey catchphrases as possible. My role apparently involved a lot of audience participation and adlibbing. I was terrified 😯 Back at school rehearsals were now in full flow. I’d learnt what few scripted lines I had. The rest I would simply have to make up on the night. Shy little me was getting more terrified by the day. The confident kids looked on scornfully as I bumbled my way through the rehearsals. My attempts at audience participation, to an empty & imaginary audience, were embarrassingly bad. This was going to be a total disaster and I just wanted a hole to crawl into. But then my non-existent confidence took an unexpected boost…
During one of the many rousing song routines that our bizarre nativity offered this year, Justin, the coolest kid in the year, announced that he couldn’t click his fingers. A tad unfortunate for super cool Justin, as his little dance routine required him to click his fingers. While some of the braver kids sniggered at Justin’s misfortune, the teachers needed to resolve the issue. After a brief stoppage it was decided the Justin would ‘pretend’ to click his fingers, by making a clicking sound with his mouth, while moving his fingers. It was genius. The coolest kid in the year now looked a complete knob, and this boosted my confidence no end 🙂
As the big day arrived the cardboard & poster paint scenery was wheeled out (carefully!). No expense was spared with Andrew’s clap-o-meter. A huge rectangular piece of cardboard with a dial painted on the front. An arrow was poked through the cardboard, which Andrew operated from behind. Nobody would even see him!!! Despite this Andrew and his cardboard clap-o-meter rather stole the show. Justin’s mimed finger clicking seemed to go largely unnoticed, while thankfully the Bruce Forsyth & Cilla Black talent show section seemed to go down very well indeed. The audience participation all went well. I crammed in as many Brucey catchphrases as I could. I might even admit to rather enjoying the whole thing.
As to how & why one of my teachers had shoe-horned a Cilla & Brucey talent show into a Xmas nativity, I’m still unsure. Why Mr Edmunds thought shy little me would be a perfect Bruce Forsyth, heaven only knows 😯 I’m not sure I was a perfect one, but at least I could click my bloody fingers…