LiBeL Column

A Belated Christmas Edition

Columns from The Nation newspaper

Seasons greetings to you all

Chocolate Hob Nobs, Guinness at an affordable price, snow, The Queen’s speech, halves of cider and black, The Sound of Music, a Clive James TV special; are all things which us migrant workers miss about Christmas at home – at least if you’re from the UK. Add another blast from the festive past to the list – The Christmas school nativity play.

Christmas school nativity plays are part of everyone’s childhood. Everyone reading this will be able to reminisce about how they laughed when the smarmy school swot, who played Joseph for three years running, was brought down a peg or two during an unplanned onstage peasant’s revolt. I’ve never had the privilege, or more likely the ordeal, of attempting to organize any form of gathering. (To be honest a piss up in a brewery is about my level of organizational skills.) So I’ll try to put myself in the shoes of a selfless, angora-sweatered drama teacher and look at ways to overcome some of the common problems encountered during the staging of such a spectacle.

Inherent problem number one ‘ Too many kids, too few roles.’ Why someone didn’t correct this the year following Jesus’ death or whilst the scribes were writing the bible I’ll never know. I guess stage adaptations and the whims of 30 sets of parents all dying to see their offspring on the stage were never taken into consideration.

What every drama teacher does is to rewrite the story by throwing a few additional characters into the mix. For example:

A donkey – this gets rid of two of the more inept or unphotogenic kids in one fell swoop. The Innkeeper’s wife and kids – Toss them a few lines to keep the parents happy ” Ooh, it’s cold tonight, isn’t it kids?”, ” Yes Mum”, “Yes, Mum” etc (Repeat once per child.)

A star – for the wise men to follow. Hip playwrights will use a modern interpretation and the star will be David Beckham or Britney Spears, which will allow one lucky 9 year old to wear a football kit or to dress like a slapper on stage.

The Baby Jesus – usually played effectively by a swaddled doll but good if you have any stunted kids in the class.

An Angel (or two) – Especially handy if the school technician has always fantasized about being a special effects designer in Hollywood. Cue flash of smoke and angels descend from the Heavens “See Mary, dreams really do come true.” , “All together now . . . . When you wish upon a star etc. . . ” Exit angels stage left to rapturous applause.

A tree – one for the Mogadon kid in the class. An ability to be motionless is all that’s required.

Sheep – Useful for a class of infants who, no matter what role they were allocated, would just wander aimlessly on stage anyway. Better to have wandering sheep than wandering trees.

Santa’s little helpers – another one for the secular crowd. Kids get to dish out bags of sweets to members of the audience.

Having assigned roles to all members of the class it’s time to indulge in a bit of creative writing to liven up what is often a rather dull affair. Remember that parents with three kids – aged 6, 9, 12 will spend about 10 consecutive Christmases watching Primary school plays.

Joseph: “Just check your bookings again please. It should be under ‘Of Aramathea, Mr and Mrs, Mary and Joseph’. Yes, from Aramathea. Yes. It’s my surname and it’s also where I’m from.”

Receptionist : “Like I said we’re full.”

Joseph: “But we booked it on the Net months ago. We got an email confirmation.”

Receptionist: “I’m going to have to call security.”

Joseph: “Hang on. What about the stable?”

Receptionist: “I beg your pardon?”

Joseph: “Is there anyone using the stable?”

Receptionist: “Stable? We don’t have a stable. We have three floor of underground parking. No-one travels by horse any more. What made you think we would have a stable?”

Joseph: (Mumbling) “Just something I read in a story once.”

Rewriting the script is only half the story, a ripping good yarn is also required and, to be frank, the original needs a bit of spice. This is where the average Guardian reading drama teacher begins to stumble and the evil influences of the moral majority get in the way. This leads to an adaptation along the lines of ‘ A Strong Moral Message About Contemporary Urban Society.’ or ‘The Trials and Tribulations of Unmarried Mothers.’

Updating events to present day Israel by including calling in airstrikes on Innkeepers suspected of harbouring Hamas activists, the ‘guiding light’ turning out to be nothing more than tracer fire and building the ‘Three suicide Kings’ into the equation aren’t recommended – as they don’t really make for an afternoon of all round family fun.

Even, if after all the rewriting the storyline is shaky, a few good gimmicks can go a long way to salvaging the previous 6 months effort. You could, for example, relay all the angels’ messages to Mary on a Nokia WAP-enabled mobile phone. (this also means young Mary has less problems learning her lines.)

Alternatively get the audience involved with a bit of mobile phone fun. If you want Mary & Joseph to be allowed to stay at the Inn dial 1900 444 100. If you think they should have tried the Ramallah Ramada instead call 1900 444 101. Anyone who believes Joseph is just looking for a way to avoid paying for a room in order to save enough shekels for a night out with the lads at the ‘Gomorrah a-go-go’ dial 1900 444 102.

Finally, a song is always a good way to end the proceeding with a smile on the kids faces. Avoid any songs kids actually enjoy singing. No Limp Bizkit or songs with choruses along the lines of “I’m a firestarter, twisted firestarter.” Or “Do it to me all night long, baby. Ooooh yeah.” Slade’s perennial favourite “Merry Christmas Everybody” is also best avoided due to the asthma attack inducing effects of the rousing chorus.

Instead, think traditional. Take a carol and give it a decent modern twist. As it’s best to write from experience the twist can be of a personal nature. I might choose to throw in one or more of the following for example:

“We Three Kings Disoriented Are.”

“On The First Day of Christmas My True Love Gave To Me (And Then Took It All Away).”

“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing About Me.”

“Santa Claus Is Coming To Get Me, The Bastard.”

Yo Ho-ho one and all.