There are few things a Londoner dislikes more than the thought of going to Covent Garden in the early evening during the run up to Christmas. For you, dear reader, I took the plunge and went there anyway. For The Last Nativity, though, it was worth braving the trip. It was my first time at The POD, which is a nifty little indoor-outdoor theatre space just a few metres back from the main piazza, shielded enough to protect you from the rain, although I’d recommend keeping your coat on. If I let my stony heart melt a little, I’ll also admit it was also quite nice to see the ginormous Christmas tree sparkle away while we waited to go in, as well as hearing the festive crowds behind us.
But onto the main event: Eden Tredwell’s The Last Nativity, featuring three grown up siblings performing an old Nativity play. Except this is a version written by Laura, when they were just children, and written for their Nan, who may not be around to see another Christmas. The three strong cast – Charlie Archer as Blake, Sarah Whitehouse as Laura and Laura Pigott as Mia – all deserve equal praise for their natural and engaging performances, but an extra gold star to Pigott for her fabulous singing and outrageous theatricality. The great ensemble brings out a very believable sibling dynamic, full of tension yet with those little hints that, actually, they do love each other.
The setup is on the basic side, but after a few minutes I talked myself into liking it – it is, after all, a recreation of a play put on in someone’s living room. The keyboard didn’t sound like it was amplified to me (not a reflection on Amir Schoenfeld’s good performance) which led the singing to feel a bit out of balance. And the last little gripe, the seating on three sides was so close that it felt unnecessary hard work to make sure they weren’t just playing to the middle. But ultimately I was sold on the charm of it all as the cast drew me into their ridiculous Christmas performance.
The comedy throughout lands well; equal parts silliness and clever wit, while the songs were the right amount of ridiculous to make us giggle along. But it was the serious, dramatic moments of the show which don’t quite land so well. The playfulness and childishness of the Nativity was enough to bring out the adult sibling’s tensions, so when various ‘real’ adult issues were then woven in they felt somewhat out of place. Tredwell also admirably includes brief mentions of the NHS understaffing crisis and the difficulties artists have had finding work in the pandemic, but these were such fleeting moments for such painful issues it left me thinking that the show needed a second half to flesh these ‘real’ issues out. These things are on the minds of an awful lot of us, so it seemed a missed opportunity to keep us in this brilliant place of silly fun without bringing us down into sober reality. But the laughs and good performances still make this a show worth going to see.
Written by: Eden Tredwell
Directed by: Jack Bence
Musical Director: Amir Shoenfeld
Produced by: Eden Tredwell and Sean Joseph Young
The Last Nativity is at The POD, Iris Theatre, Covent Garden until 11 December 2021. Further information and booking via the below link.