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Nativity! The Musical - as presented by Encore PAA



Performance Dates: 13-16th DECEMBER 2023

Date of Adjudicated Performance: 15th December 2023

“Tonight is so pure and so special, we’ll never be lonely again, cause we are all standing together as friends”.

Strabane, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland is 4 hours and 6 minutes away from Wexford, and thankfully on the day I travelled those miles across this lovely country of ours the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and it was a great day to be on the road.

The Alley Theatre is one of those theatres that you arrive outside, and you just immediately think - what a beautiful theatre. From the moment I stepped inside the door I was impressed with the lovely ‘Christmassy’ atmosphere, and the craic and banter amongst the patrons. Noise levels were at a peak all in a good way as I was warmly greeted by Ms Rebecca Thompson, and Mr Ian Thompson, Producer and Set Designer for this show. I was shown to a little table and chairs in a lovely (quieter!) area of the foyer where despite the trojan responsibilities they themselves had (more on that later) they were effusive in their welcome.

We chatted about the history of this Academy, some insights into previous shows and the love and pride that Rebecca and Ian have experienced over the past couple of years, the highs and lows, the memories, and most of all – the talent and friendship that abounds from this group. This was a sell-out performance, not a seat to be found. It really did feel like Christmas. Front of House. Was professional, very busy, and everyone knew what their role was. There were also many of you and many people dotted inside the theatre keeping an eye three or four down the aisles waiting for a hand to be raised or a seat to be found.

The Producer for this show was Rebecca Thompson. The mastermind behind this whole Production and the ideas she had, to bring it to fruition. Ms Thompson is a very gifted, warm bubbly lady, and what one would call in the Theatre world an Oscar performing Multitasker. Ms Thompson put together a very strong, creative and talented team here for Encore and with Ms Douglas as Director along with Mr Gerard Bradley as Musical Director, Head of Dance and Choreographer Ms Caroline Barker, and her backstage crew headed up by Ian Thompson, this was a tour de force team.

For me personally, one of the highlights was everybody being asked to turn on their phones to flashlight and wave them in the darkness to the music at the end. The Finale of Act 2 with the full Company “Sparkle & Shine - the ideas, and the time it must have taken to put these ideas onto a stage for the Performing Arts Academy was incredible- it just worked. Ms Thompson is also the mother of 6 boys, all of whom were on stage and along with her husband Ian as Set Designer, and one of their sons James playing one of the lead roles of Mr Poppy, this show truly is a family affair for the Thompsons but is a friendship affair for each member of the cast and crew, because that is what this show emanated. Fun, humility, friendship, music, dance, and a lovely story produced beautifully and with an empathy, to create a vision, a Christmas vision for all, and it truly worked brilliantly.

Director for this show was Laura Douglas. Along with Ms Thompson as Producer it was obvious these two ladies worked very well together creating a magical world of innocence of the young children, the magic of Christmas and the talent of a cast so young in many of the characters. Ms Douglas really did have the perfect cast in this production. The movement of the children around the stage, the little characters and the one liners that were so funny “Do I have to wear a beard? “Asked the child. “Yes," says Mr Maddens, " everyone in Nazareth has a beard! Even the women!!! Ms Douglas is a gifted Director. To work with children so young and adults not so young, was no easy task. Hours and hours of work in the attention to detail here and indeed developing each and every character was a mammoth task.

The detail in the scene “Together Forever” with children was gorgeous. “Good News” sung by Layla Brolly as Angel Gabriel, hoisted down from the flies and floating very high up in the air I will add was one of the most emotional scenes and beautifully directed here by Ms Douglas. It was simply superb. From the movement of the children, the bling costumes, Ms Brolly singing and swinging like a trapeze artist, the singing, the fun, the sound, everything here was a director's dream – if done properly and it most certainly was. Mr Poppy asked if anyone in the audience had a spare baby and a doll was lifted up from the seats a few rows in front of me and selected as Baby Jesus. This was very funny. I swung my own phone around the audience here for this scene and it was very emotional. It was beautiful and very special here Ms Douglas. A moment I will not forget, your direction for the actual Christmas Nativity when it did come to fruition in front of Hollywood, with the flashlights on the phones of the audience lit around the full theatre, the cast, the children, the lights the sets, the music, and the Costumes was simply stunning. Super job Ms Douglas.

Rebecca Thompson and Caroline Barker were the Choreographers for this show. A tricky enough job when you have a very young cast, and I must say these ladies did a lovely job on the dance and movements for this show given the very young ages. These young children danced and moved beautifully with many numbers requiring Choreography, and it was a joy to watch the movement being so beautifully created by these young stars of the future.

Musical Director for this show was Mr Gerard Bradley. A gifted musician. And a very humble, quiet man whom I had the pleasure of meeting backstage after the show and it was very clear to me upon speaking to Mr Bradley that he loves his music, he loves this Company, and he is an excellent Musical Director and shares his gift of music with many. This is his 3rd year with this group and is a huge asset to its success. There was a lovely tone from the band, and some fantastic numbers throughout including, “My Very First Day at School”, Wrapped in a Rainbow” (gorgeous), “Dear Father Christmas”, “Herod the Rock Opera”, “Suddenly”, the oh so beautiful “Sparkle and Shine”, “She’s the Brightest Star”, “One Night, One Moment”, and the oh the moving and emotional “Sparkle Finale”. Mr Bradley had the youngest of stars on stage along with Mr Madden, Mr Poppy, and the other adult Cast in perfect sync and with a beautiful sound which was warm, melodic and graceful. This magnificent sounding Band enhanced this show greatly under Mr Bradley direction and I congratulate you all. Absolutely lovely. Well done.

The Set Designer was Mr Ian Thompson. A massively successful set this was and worked consistently very well. The set was designed by Mr and Ms Thompson. I loved the street houses, painted beautifully and were very authentic with their red brick walls. This set was big, yet still allowed full use of the large stage and of course the large cast. The houses were on either side of stage right and stage left and upstage centre was a simple stepped area with a gorgeous backdrop of large painted navy blue wall with massive Christmas baubles and stars twinkling and a magnificent large circle moon in the centre. This became the key area of the set being used and used very wisely and cleverly in that it enabled everyone to be on different levels and it was simple – yet very effective. This was the key here. I loved the cleverness of when the children of St Bernadette’s came on stage to sing, they used these massive boxes wrapped as Christmas presents as seats and to stand on scattered around the stage, which were very movable and very effective yet so simple. Very clever. This large centre set then changed simply by adding dramatic gothic arches above for the school Nativity Concert, and then again, a gorgeous transformation for the Manger lit in gold with lights for Finale of the School Concert, which was just adorable, and so effective. Finally for the back of the stage for the show finale, the set returned to the set same as the opening of the show for the bows. The Christmas Tree and sofa depicting Mr Maddens flat down stage right was very clever and very authentic And, then for the finale, with different lighting we again were brought back to the original set as above for the closing number.

Sets were very sweet, beautifully painted and so perfectly appropriate I really could not find fault anywhere. The Set for the Nativity lowered down from the flies in gold with twinkling lights all around was special. To the Stage Management team also, Stage Manager, Laura Doughlas, and Stage Team, Ian Thompson, Charlie Thompson, Amanda Brown, Melanie Grant, Aobha Harrica, Alice O’Connor, and Yagmur Ekici I applaud you all. Scene changes when required moved freely, were perfectly executed and in great time. No delays, very little if any noise in the set changes, and a great success overall. Well done!

Set Construction was the responsibility of Raymond Wright, Ian Thompson, James Thompson, Charlie Thompson, Alan Thompson, Keith Thompson, Kyle Thompson, and Cathair McCrory. This set took time and effort and there was a vast amount of very good attention to detail here. Well done to Raymond Wright, Cathair McCrory, and ALL the Thompsons on this!

Props were very good. The gifts being brought into the manger for baby Jesus from the Wise Men (in black shades and gold and silver baseball caps with capes were just hilariously funny. A packet of Nappies, a hot water bottle, and a massive bar of Dairy Milk the same size as an IPAD were just a few of the “Gifts” brought to baby Jesus in the Manger! The boxes wrapped in Christmas paper were scattered around the stage and were sturdy and colourful and wrapped. I loved Mr Poppy’s lunch box in Act 1!!! Also, small things like the crib, the Coventry Evening Standard, Oakmoor King Herod Rock Opera Programme, the lovely framed photo of Mr Poppy and his aunt Ms Bevan framed with the teddy bear between them in their Christmas pyjamas, the splendid Logos on each uniform designed by Ms Laura Douglas. Great job from the Props team Ms Rebecca Thompson (again) ! and Ms Laura Douglas (again!). Simply wonderful.

Lighting Design was again by Rebecca Thompson and Laura Douglas along with lighting Technician Andrew Orr. What a successful trio. The lighting was excellent. I particularly liked the fantastic opening scene “Here Comes Santa Claus”, the wonderful lighting in “Herod the Rock Opera”. And of course, “Sparkle and Shine” and “One Night One Moment” where for me personally the lighting only enhanced the emotional moments during these songs. Lighting was full of lovely colours, loved the reds and greens and a particular mention to the many spots filtering from the fly’s, strong and beaming like stars in the various colours required throughout each number of the show. I would think that Mr Orr, Ms Thompson and Ms Douglas spent long hours creating these “pictures” but for the lighting to be as successful as it was you must have a passion and adore what you are doing.

Sound was by Nigel Caldwell NC Sound & Communications. No easy job with so much movement and so many young people on board, many of them also with mics. Sound was very good. The sound for the principals particularly Mr Maddens, Mr Poppy, and most definitely Mr Gordon Shakespeare played by Patrick Moore was spot on. I never struggled to hear any line. A miracle with the movement of little people on stage on a constant basis. Specific mention to the sound effect of the Helicopter as if it was flying directly above our heads – “Its HOLLYWOOD!! A great job on sound Mr Caldwell. Well done.

Costume Design was by Rebecca Thompson. These costumes were so full, bright, and appropriate. Mr Madden's costume was the perfect wardrobe for this very sensible, lovable teacher. The Costumes of the dancers in the opening number “Here Comes Santa Claus' lit up the stage. Of course, the children’s uniforms were splendid both St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor Prep kids, mention also to the costumes for Mr Gordon Shakespeare great attention to detail and I loved the costumes also for the Oakmoor Prep kids and indeed Mr Shakespeare in the number “Herod the Rock Opera”. Ms Jennifer Lores played by Anna Gallagher were perfect, professional and Mr Lore looked great in every costume for each scene. Really well done here. The Critic played by Shane Gallagher had such a great costume that I knew what sort of a character he was going to be without uttering a word!! Ms Bevan played by Andrea Logue what a wardrobe! I loved the Solar System costumes. They beamed out to the audience, fun, cartoon like, planet costumes, in Act 2. Fun, bright, in 3d effect worn by the cast but these were not just any planets these were awesome, huge to fit a person and magnificent in colour and dimensions and it was obvious a lot of work went into these and it worked. (My favourite was Saturn!!) Bravo. But it was the children of St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor Prep in their immaculately turned-out uniforms for both schools that for me stole the show.

The part of Mr Poppy was played by Mr James Thompson. At age 19, Mr Thompson truly is the most brilliant actor and comedian, and from the moment he arrived on stage in his parka and fur collar, (with a pink lunchbox) There is not ONE thing I can criticise about your amazing performance here Mr Thompson. You had the children of St Bernadette’s in the palm of your hand and along with Mr Maddens (played by Ronan Drummond) you were the most fantastic duo. Songs, “Sparkle & Shine” “She’s the Brightest Star”, were gorgeous. Mr Thompson, you have a talent that is rare and brilliant and I do hope you continue to nurture your gift going forward and achieve all of your dreams - because that is what you instilled in those children on stage with you tonight and I sincerely hope for you, that arising from the part of Mr Poppy, you continue to reach for your stars for a long time to come. A brilliant, brilliant performance. Bravo Mr Thompson.

The part of Mr Paul Maddens was played by Ronan Drummond. What I immediately liked about this fine actor was the rapport he had with Mr Poppy who consistently tested the bounds of his patience! A lovely guy, so madly in love with only one lady and she headed off to Hollywood leaving him alone in his flat he believed they would share together and teach in St Bernadette’s. Mr Maddens, you were a massive success in this lovely role for you. “Yes, we can” was indeed one of the many highlights of this show. Lovely stage presence, very gentle character and a very good actor this part was played beautifully by Mr Drummond. You were a major cog in the wheel of success for this production and you were a wonderful strong lead and I wish you many more shows and continued success. Well done and thank you for bringing to us the wonderful Mr Madden. Well done.

The part of Gordon Shakespeare was played by Mr Patrick Moore. Great contrast here between Mr Moore and Mr Maddens, with the part of Gordon Shakespeare being the teacher in Oakmoor Prep. Mr Moore played this role superbly. A great actor with a brilliant rapport with his students which was obvious in every scene, with one of the highlights of the full show being “Herod the Rock Opera”. Given the connection with you and the pupils I can only imagine that hours and hours of work was spent rehearsing - indeed for Mr Maddens and Mr Poppy too to build the connections you had with them all on stage as their teachers. So lovely to see. What a number. What a great character Mr Moore was in this role.

Mr Moore moved around the stage obsessed with perfection and that of his pupils to win best school Nativity. Mr Moore had a robotic and stern like character again in contrast to the warmer Mr Maddens, however Mr Moore's performance here was excellent. It is not always easy to be the “Baddie” in a show and to be liked yet Mr Moore achieved this in both his singing and his acting. Mr Moore has a lovely stage presence, acting was superb, and hair, costume and in particular the connection with the pupils was lovely and beautifully played. I loved your character Mr Moore and what you created to be a great Gordon Shakespeare. A lovely performance.

The part of Jennifer Lore was played by Anna Gallagher. Jennifer is Mr Maddens love interest in this Musical, to whom he is about to propose to but at the last moment she tells him she has been offered a job in the States and she must leave. Mr Maddens is heartbroken. Ms Gallagher has a lovely stage presence, gorgeous singing voice and a lovely rapport again with fellow characters, I loved in the 2nd half of the show Ms Lore managed to get the USA producer to fly in and see the Nativity, and it was in this role and indeed that as Mr Maddens only love that I endeared myself to this young lady. Very pretty costumes, gorgeous presence on stage, lovely voice and a good actress, Ms Gallagher came across as a lovely character, great rapport with fellow actors, perfect hairstyle and makeup and overall, a very strong lady in this particular role and you enhanced this show immensely. Congratulations on a very good all round performance Ms Gallagher. A pleasure to watch you in this performance. Well done.

The lovely Ms Bevan was played by Andrea Logue. What a gorgeous part. Great expression, brilliant eye rolling, and comical timing, fussy, dithery, confused, organised, lovable, a bit dippy and funny with a lovely singing voice and I personally loved you in this role as Ms Bevan. Loved your stage presence, songs, comical timing already mentioned, and then the dithering, stress, demands, and successes Ms Bevan had been seamlessly coordinated to create this lovely character that you made and did so very well. Ms Bevan. I very much enjoyed this character you created, and you were a very important link in portraying the everyday chaos that can be in a Primary School and yet do it with Grace. Well done. A very strong Ms Bevan. Congratulations Ms Logue.

The Critic was played by Shane Gallagher. What a smashing voice this young man has. The scene with the Lord Mayor played by Mr Caoimhin Boyle was a delight. Two very strong voices here with lovely harmonies. Lovely actor, great costume as already mentioned, fussy, self-important and made everyone know he was a Critic. Fast moving, slick, professional and well-cast. A lovely part and very nicely played by Mr Gallagher.

Miss Rye was played by Aisling McCorkell. A great actress. An air of don’t mess with me in a professional way, excellent speaking voice and diction and although not a big part you made a difference with whom you made Ms Rye to be. Noticed. Your performance was really very well done, great movement and overall, very strong in this part.

The Lord Mayor was played by Caoimhinn Boyle. Mr Boyle has a lovely stage presence, and a lovely voice both in speaking and in singing. Very eloquent in his announcements and introduction of Ms Bevan his character as Mayor making the announcements and again in his singing with Mr Lovely stage movement again, and great stage presence. Particular fondness for this likeable character. Lovely performance indeed Mr Boyle.

Mr Parker the USA TV Producer was a picture of importance, impatience and rudeness when we meet him. Initially abrupt, forgetful and very much full of his own importance as a Hollywood Producer who spoke to his Assistant Ms Jennifer Lore abruptly and with some impatience. Mr Parker's presence when Ms Lore finally got him to come to see the Nativity was excellently executed here with Mr Parker taking his seat in the audience to watch this Nativity as one of the audience with a spot on his group. This was very clever and worked exceptionally well. Mr Boyle is confident and assured on stage, great diction, strength of character, and excellent costumes again. (I wouldn’t like to work with you though!) Great part. Well done.

Ms Nicola Jane McLaughlin played the part of Hollywood Receptionist with the most gorgeous smile and stage presence despite the short time this young lady was on stage. You made a huge impression. Excellent diction, you looked wonderful, and really did transport the audience to Hollywood with your infectious aura and stage presence, only a few minutes but a performance in this role that I can still recall. Very well done Ms McLaughlin.

The part of The Priest was played by Giles Murray. What a magnificent voice and stage presence. Mr Murray, you are a very talented gentleman. Your singing was sublime, a great actor, and I hope to see you again on stage. Such is your talent of voice, acting and timing. Excellent in this role you were magnificent in this role. Congratulations.

The parts of the Reporter played by Donna Ponsonby, Tour Guide Lorraine Porter, Security Guard Molly McDaid, and Angel Gabriel’s Mum Sadbh Breathnach were very well done. Small parts, but vital in the overall performance and success for this group that you call home. Great costumes, and wonderfully played by each one of you. Well done.

The chorus of children in the main – well what can I say. Simply irresistible.

“One Night One Moment” is a number I will remember forever because of all of you and your magic. Also “Sparkle & Shine”, “Good News” to name only three out of so many numbers you all had to perform. Given all the characters in this beautiful show, for me it was the lovely children of St Bernadette’s and Oakmoor Prep that were the highlight for me. Like the brightness in the night sky, you were like shining stars throughout. Your energy, enthusiasm, dancing, your expressions, were just a sight to behold. Each one of you, some of you very young, created your own little characters whether Mr Maddens and his assistant Mr Poppy or Mr Shakespeare you were just amazing. It is in my opinion, important that I mention you all individually such was the effect you had on me and your audience on the evening of 15th December. Whether it was sitting scattered around on your Christmas boxes, singing with Mr Poppy, Mr Maddens or Mr Shakespeare, your gorgeous singing, your perfect uniforms and your smiles, you reminded me of shooting stars lighting up the stage every time you were on it. You were adorable. Every single one of you, by your presence, gave this show its beauty and magic. You stole the show, and you stole my heart. BRAVO!.

This was a team of happiness, friendship, innocence, talent, and bringing the gift of the story of The Nativity to its audience, and to those who were lucky enough to get a seat! Direction and Production were a united team. Congratulations Ms Douglas and Ms Thompson.

You are a very blessed and lucky talented bunch. May it stay with you always.

I will finish with one of the letters the children wrote to Santa printed in the programme…it goes like this…….

“Santa, I’ve been worried for a while, I think it's because my teacher lost his smile. Please help him. Lots of love, Max. xxx”

This show was special. You brought many smiles back to many people’s faces in your audience tonight. Congratulations.

Caroline Daly Jones

Sullivan Adjudicator 2023/2024

Some photos kindly shared by the society:

Photos by Raymond Mc Carron


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