It is almost certain that on Christmas Day a number of babies will be born in Peterborough. And there is a good chance that one of these latest mums will be a newcomer to the city and may be from Latvia, Lithuania or even Syria.
Such is the proposition at the heart of Nativity Blues, the new offering by Eastern Angles Theatre Company, and the latest in a long line of their plays that refer to and celebrate Peterborough and its people old and new. Previous productions have included Our Nobby, I ❤ Peterborough, Parkway Dreams, River Lane, John Clare as well as my own favourite Dark Earth.
In Nativity Blues Danusia Iwaszko’s writing reimagines the Christmas story for our times. The narrative itself is familiar to us all – journey, struggle, hardship yet ultimately hope and optimism. Escaping war-torn Syria are Miriam and her suitably sceptical partner Josef. “Are you sure it wasn’t one of the soldiers” he ventures to ask his partner?
Miriam and Josef’s journey leads them to, you guessed it, Peterborough. No room at inns, homes or even Waitrose but refuge in The Undercroft at Serpentine Green, fortunately the very venue for this play! Mary is befriended by kindly centre worker Ben and the baby is delivered by a maternal character called Shepherd. In Peterborough we might have a shortage of maternity beds but not of supermarket trolleys. Just as well ‘cos that’s little Joshua’s first taste of affordable housing.
The whole play is neatly told by merely four actors, all of who bring credibility and warmth to the characters they portray.
The set piece songs are particularly strong, sung with West End verve in the south-west corner of Serpentine Green. Aston New has X-Factor looks and Imelda Warren Green’s Les Miserables demeanour makes her both vulnerable yet strong in equal measures. DK Ugonna is great at being the uncertain new dad who wants the best for his little family and Darrie Gardner oversees the whole thing like a Dogsthorpe Fairy Godmother. The dialogue between the exquisitely barmy Peterborough pigeon hand puppets is worth the admission alone.
The challenge for Eastern Angles is to get people to come and see this play - the Undercroft is an excellent if surprising performance space but is tucked out of the way. The pop-up nature of the venue is a challenge – not many folk know where it is. It’s not as if it’s in the centre of the city in say, the Guildhall (now there’s a thought for future productions).
The challenge for the people of Peterborough is to go and see Nativity Blues. It deserves to be seen. So, this November (from now until Saturday 21st) take an evening out from the telly and go and see this novel take on the December story. The play reminds us that “all of us are travellers” and it is no bad thing that we are encouraged to think about how we have ended up in the little speck of the world that is home or in our case Peterborough.
There are many great things to do in Peterborough and this is one of them. Go for it - Nativity Blues got soul!
REVIEW: Toby Wood