Here’s a late contender for the theatrical event of the year. Danny Dyer and Dani Dyer – the Dannies Dyer to give them their properly pluralised name – are doing a stint in Nativity! The Musical at the Hammersmith Apollo.
The documentarian, Eastenders star, direct descendant of Edward III, and indisputable national treasure, and his daughter, glorious victor of this year’s Love Island, are performing in Debbie Isitt’s juggernaut stage adaptation of her own festive 2009 film about a lovelorn Coventry school teacher struggling to stage the annual Christmas play and mooning over his LA-ex.
The plot is basically lifted straight from the movie, and the staging of it is pretty straightforward, but it’s hard not to love a production that contains hoards of all-singing, all-dancing school kids and champions so inarguably lovely a message that we should let our children aim for the stars.
Most of the main characters just imitate their big-screen counterparts. As Mr Maddens, Scott Garnham does a decent Martin Freeman impression, fussing and fretting over his excitable pupils and his ex-girlfriend’s career. Andy Brady channels Jason Watkins as Mr Maddens’ arch-rival from the posh school across town. It’s hyperactive TA Mr Poppy, played by Simon Lipkin, who drives the show with his unflagging energy.
The best bits in Isitt and Nicky Ager’s relentlessly cheery score are the tunes that have been transplanted from the film, too: Nazareth, a stone-cold belter about Joseph and Mary meeting, and Sparkle and Shine, the show’s all-stops-out closing number.
David Woodhead’s set design doesn’t raise any eyebrows either, with simple fly-in cardboard cutouts whipping the scene from school to school and back again. Until, that is, the last half an hour, when the school’s Nativity is actually staged in a brilliant blaze of sparkling lights and twirling, occasionally stumbling children.
Both of the two Dannies can genuinely act, but they honestly have very little to do, as does Jo Brand, who pops up as Coventry’s curmudgeonly drama critic. They’re not even in the first half, only popping up as a Hollywood exec and his daughter once our hero jets to LA to confess his undying love for his childhood sweetheart and convince them all to come to Coventry in time for Christmas.
When Dyer senior is on stage, he’s exactly as you’d expect: gruff, but loveable. “This gaff don’t even ‘av a roof,” he snarls upon entering Coventry Cathedral. It’s never explained why a Californian movie producer would speak like the landlord of the Queen Vic, but it doesn’t matter, because the next thirty minutes are some of the finest you’ll spend in a theatre: Danny Dyer and his daughter, roped into the Nativity as a giant Christmas bauble, belting it out with the rest of them. An exquisite end to a somewhat saccharine show.