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Aldermaston - The York Nativity Play

9th to 12th December 2004

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Generations of tradition

The York Nativity Play, at The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Aldermaston, from Thursday, December 9 to Saturday, December 12 and the Minster Church, Reading, on Saturday, December 4

This is the 48th year that The York Nativity Play has been performed in this Aldermaston church and one member of the cast has appeared no less than 40 times. At this rate they will soon rival the London production of The Mouse Trap for longevity if not for content.

Inspired originally by the Church of St Mary which dates back to 1150, with later additions, this is indeed, the ideal setting. With well planned and executed low key lighting, the atmosphere created at the beginning was sufficient to carry through to the last notes from the choir.

Based on the texts of six plays in the medieval York cycle, this version by E. Martin-Browne from 1932 has no superfluous words.

The action of the play takes place on two small stages, although the entire church building is utilised including the ringing chamber in the tower which housed 17 singers and, on his various appearances looking down from heaven, the angel Gabriel.

Although the words were not superfluous neither were they particularly easy to use by modern actors; this was the language as heard on the streets of York 500 years ago.

Particularly impressive here was the performance of Catherine Ramsell as Mary, she convinced by the light in her eyes as soon as she was told of her destiny and her joyous demeanour throughout.

Equally taxing was the part of Joseph – old and confused, but finally convinced of his wife’s fidelity. His changing moods and levels of understanding were well portrayed by Nick Caiger-Smith.

Chris Newman, as Gabriel, looked good in his white robes and glitter but could have exercised more authority in this role.

Peter Oldridge played Herod in true villainous mode as this character is to the nativity play what the ugly sisters are to pantomime. He was suitably cruel and selfish but could have projected his lines a little clearer.

Mostly though, this play depends on the ensemble acting from the three kings, three shepherds, messengers, attendants and the main characters and this was a fine collective performance.

If you add in the clear, bright voices of the choir, the early-15th and 16th century hymns, subdued lighting, atmospheric movement and action around this historic church and Pat Eastop’s skillful but unobtrusive direction, you have an entertaining and thought-provoking production.