It’s that time of the year again: a saccharine army of mince pies are slowly infiltrating the supermarkets and St. Bernadette’s primary school is preparing itself for another Nativity production. As a trained actor, teacher Mr. Maddens seems the obvious choice for director, but a vague and painful memory of receiving minus two stars for his last executive endeavour seems to be hampering his Christmas spirit. And that’s not to mention the smug Mr. Shakespeare from the rival Oakmoor School, whose acclaimed adaptations regularly snag the prestige of the critic’s choice. In an awkward and competitive encounter, Mr. Maddens allows his imagination to get the better of him and suggests a few white lies in opposition to Mr. Shakespeare’s pretentiousness, but the loveable if not bigmouthed classroom assistant Mr. Poppy has heard him out of context... In a whirlwind of events, the council has been notified and press requests are flying in: it seems Hollywood are coming to St. Bernadette’s, and they want to make a feature film.

Nativity! The Musical is positively dripping with joy. Adapted from the smash hit film series by its creator, Debbie Isitt, the production manages both to encapsulate the essence of its inspiration and exceed it – standing proudly in isoltation as a benchmark to which all other festive creations should compare themselves. Utilising both the songs from the film and a new repertoire by Nicky Ager and Debbie Isitt, the show holds something for all the family.

Simon Lipkin has a high-stakes role as Mr. Poppy, holding a lot of the plot’s progression on his shoulders. He does so with flair and charisma, remaining firmly on the side of the line that reads ‘endearing’ rather than ‘entertaining’ - something that isn’t always easy to do when his personality stems largely from childlike qualities. Scott Garnham’s exasperated Mr. Maddens bounces well off Mr. Poppy’s energy and stands in opposition to the well-meaning but over-excitable headteacher Mrs. Bevan, brought to life so excellently by Jemma Churchill.

Where the production truly shines is through the children of St. Bernadette’s and Oakmoor School: roles played by a militia of local primary school talent. Their confidence is remarkable, and the quality of their performances could rival many a grown-up. Cracker the Dog completes the theatrical recipe of unadulterated entertainment; and that’s not to mention the costume he dons for his Nativity debut at the end of the second act.

David Woodhead’s design is truly outstanding; encapsulating the very lifeblood of Christmas in every detail down to the last stitch. Glitter oozes from every star in the set design, and the fantastic imagery St. Bernadette’s teachers dressed as planets really is a sight to behold. A triumph in its execution, Nativity! The Musical is as joyous as it is pure. Bursting from the seams with Christmas cheer: if you hadn’t planned on erecting the tree this weekend, you certainly will be afterwards.

Nativity! The Musical runs at Festival Theatre until Sunday 2nd December 2018.