"Those who have tears," said my friend and neigbour, handing me a large white handkerchief with the letter B embroidered in one corner, "prepare to shed them now."
There we were, all in our best as befitted the occasion, awaiting the start of the nursery school's Christmas concert. No critical first night this - there was an expectant buzz of conversation from the hall while proud papas
fiddled with the flash attachments to their 35 millimetre cameras. A small, belated angel crept in at the front door, adjusted bedraggled wings and trotted self-consciously through to the back room.
As one of the few members of the audience who could watch without bias, I decided it would be an interesting exercise to review the prodcution with a critic's eye...
It began a trifle slowly, perhaps because the ten three year olds who featured in the first scene took a fair amount of shepherding onto the stage. The five girls lisped their verse of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" beautifully
but the boys' rendition of "Rats and Snails and Puppy Dogs' Tails" lacked conviction, I felt.
The pace improved with the second item on the programme
- Little Miss Muffet Sat On Her Tuffet and was frightened off by an extremely realistic spider. The latter did rather spoil the effect by removing his fearsome black head to inform the audience that it was "hot in there."
A four year old understudy called Emily got her chance of stardom when she stepped in at the last moment to take the place of a soloist who was unfortunately indisposed with an attack of chicken pox. Emily displayed considerable stage
presence in covering up the fact that she completely forgot the words of "Polly Put The Kettle On" and adlibbed cleverly by substituting the words of "Jack and Jill". Her assurance was such that it is possible this slip might have passed unnoticed by
anyone who had not studied Mother Goose's Book of Nursery Rhymes.
As Emily left the stage to tumultuous applause it was a signal for the nativity play to commence.Three wise men, solemn-faced, surveyed
the ceiling. "I see a star," said one, unconvincingly. His companions nudged him hastily - he was looking in completely the wrong direction. A voice off-stage drew his attention to the glittering star strung from the ceiling behind him. "Oh,
I see a STAR!" he repeated, in his voice the wonder of discovery.
All three enjoyed themselves so much cavorting about on imaginary camels that the narrator had to repeat "and off they went to Jerusalem"
thee times in a voice growing in treacly determination with each attempt to persuade the wise men to leave the stage.
Herod had the face of a cherub and a charming habit of scratching his
head when he couldn't remember what he was supposed to do next. Perhaps he could have addressed more of his remarks to the wise men kneeling uncomfortably before him and fewer to his mother in the second row back.
The angels appearing on the hillside to a quartet of shepherds with cardboard sheep tucked under their arms seemed a little vague about their part in the plot. Joseph was quite unable to overcome his embarrassment at having to put an arm round
Mary and glowered ferociously at the audience all through a particularly tender scene. Mary, demure in blue, quite stole the show by dropping her infant, swaddled in a Mothercare blanket, on the floor as she made to lay him in the manger.
"What did you think of it then?" whispered my friend, dewy-eyed. Now, if ever, was the moment to provide a fearless critical assessment....
"Could I give you back
your handkerchief later? " I aked, "It's got a bit damp."
Slough Evening Mail: Christmas 1979