Last week I went to my first nativity play in approximately thirty-one years. The last time I was at one, I was the girl in blue holding the baby, a fellow six year old sitting beside me in a brown curtain and tea towel as my husband. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a real donkey in the assembly hall, but in my mind it is there, leading our path through the audience as the rest of the cast sings ‘Little Donkey’.
So it felt like things had come full circle when Mr Applepip and I sat watching our little boy as Joseph, leading his Mary by the hand to their station behind the manger. Holding up my iPhone (as absent as the donkey in 1981) to record the precious moments, I held my breath and hoped he would say his lines clearly enough. Forgetting them wasn’t an issue – he only had two – but I wondered if a gathering of sixty adults might put him off his stroke. It didn’t. He had, after all, undergone rigorous training of a rehearsal per day for about two weeks, by all accounts, so utter tedium was more likely than memory loss. But he and his beautiful little classmates approached the whole performance with a freshness that suggested they were doing the play for the first time, and there were few dry eyes in the house.
‘It’s not far now, Mary’, said Joseph, his voice as clear as a bell. Sure enough, it wasn’t – two metres, to be exact – and he and Mary sat down in their school chairs behind a box filled with straw. Someone shoved a plastic Jesus into Mary’s hand, and ‘here’s baby Jesus’, she announced. Not quite labour as I remember it, but just as well if you’re stuck in Bethlehem with no ventouse to hand. ‘Come and see him,’ said Joseph, thereby completing his acting requirements and sitting back with Mary to relax.
The rest of the play was sweet and amusing – a star who did forget his lines, a trio of wise men depositing their offerings haphazardly at the happy couple’s feet, angels fiddling inappropriately with white dresses. One shepherd was so relaxed in his role that he sat down at the end of the play and plunged his hand into his Y-fronts. I might be a little biased, but it was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, and Mr Applepip (Joseph, 1977) agrees.